Let's not allow Memorial Day to be a holiday of faceless, nameless, generic Americans who died in the uniformed service of their/our country.
If you would like one more place to keep the names alive of somebody you knew, please name them in the Comments section below and say a word about them, if you choose.
The three at the top of my list are Jerry Petty, Alan Ruddell and John Hanson -- fellow high school students from working class families who made the Supreme Sacrifice, their names engraved in the wall of the Vietnam Memorial.
REMEMBERING EVEN THOSE IN ABANDONED CEMETERIES
World War II veteran Warren Beck deeply embedded this need for remembering during our entire shared life.
He was a milk man with a truck route that included country stores across the Ozarks ridges and hollows. Through the years, he seemed to have spotted or learned about nearly every family cemetery across his county. Many were abandoned and grown up with trees and brush. He stopped and read inscriptions and researched records to try to determine every veteran buried in those graveyards.
With help from American Legion friends, he did his best to place a flag on the grave of every one of those veterans, even if nobody else had visited that cemetery in years. He was obsessive about remembering every veteran, especially those who had died in service.
He nearly died back in the 1990s from complications of stress fractures from loading and unloading a lawnmower to cut a path from a road or parking lot to more recent veteran graves in cemeteries that were grown over. He would do this before Memorial Day in case some distant relative might decide to pay a visit.
Dad had special ladder mounts welded to the front of his milk delivery truck to assist the Legion in putting flags on the light posts of our small Missouri town of Marshfield for all patriotic occasions.
That truck would often be seen pulling into a cemetery just before a military funeral as Dad would delay his milk route to don his uniform and lead the honor guard at the close of the graveside service. By 5th grade, I was traveling with Dad to blow Taps, mainly for World War One veterans at first and then for boys not much older than me who were dying in Vietnam.
ALL THE JOYS OF LIFE WE'VE HAD AFTER OUR PEERS HAVE DIED FOR OUR COUNTRY
On that day in August of 2004 before he entered a hospital for a surgery that took his life at 85, Mom and I took another walk with Dad around the War Dead Memorial he had helped initiate on the courthouse square.
We gazed again at the engraved names of Dad's childhood friends who had entered World War Two with him but never returned to have Baby Boom children and share in an era of immense national prosperity. For six decades, I don't think a week ever passed without Dad thinking about the joys of his life that his friends never knew.
It is called the Supreme Sacrifice for a reason. The phrase does not over-state.
The names of Jerry, Alan and John are on that Marshfield monument, as well. We spent the Saturday nights of our teens driving aimlessly around that courthouse square; we answered the call of our country for military service. But since then I have lived four wonderful decades of which they lived none.
On Memorial Day, please keep the names alive of those you have known who have made that sacrifice. They may have fallen as recently as last week or be relatives who fell as distantly as 1776.
They risked and gave their lives for their/our National Community. Thanks to all of you who honor them by name and then by action by voluntarily laboring to protect the National Community for those who will follow us.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA
P.S. I am awed by the tributes posted below. I have read all and will continue to read them so that your loved ones' names will have been heard by those who never knew them. I defy anybody to read through these with dry eyes. Thanks to all of you for these glimpses into such deep springs of humanity -- yours and of those you named.
Updated: Mon, May 30th 2011 @ 4:35pm EDT