Memorial Day is often a time to reflect on the contributions of armed forces members who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
But at a Memorial Day Service at Macon Memorial Park Funeral Home on Monday morning, those in attendance were asked to think of the sacrifices made beyond those who died.
Myrice Vinson, former National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary, was the keynote speaker at the service and reminded everyone that it’s important not to forget those who survived on the battlefield but were left permanently injured by their experiences.
“We’re compelled to remember the enormous cost of war,” Vinson told the audience. “War is bloody, brutal and painful. ... Memorial Day is not just a time to celebrate, but is also a solemn time of mourning.”
Never miss a local story.
She told the crowd of about 200 that all the living can do for those who died is honor their memories, but much more can be done for the survivors of those foreign conflicts.
“The best way to honor the dead is to serve those who came home sick and wounded,” she said. “Every day, disabled veterans pay the price for our freedom. For these people, the war will never end.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Shedd of the 48th Brigade was among those in attendance. A veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, he said a group that also deserves more attention is the families of soldiers who are left behind when that soldier goes overseas.
“I think this shows what kind of support that we have from the public back home,” he said, indicating the crowd. “But sometimes, we forget the families. The soldier — he’s got friends over there. But a lot of times, you’re talking about a single wife, possibly with young children, who is left here. I had three deployments, and I knew how rough it was for my wife. I’d like to see more of a push to reach out to the families.”
Arthur Sullivan Jr. of Warner Robins, and his wife, Betty, know first-hand the difficulties of having a loved one serve overseas.
Arthur Sullivan is a veteran of the Korean War, having received a Purple Heart and other citations after being wounded in battle in 1952 with the 38th Infantry Regiment.
During that same battle, Sullivan’s best friend, a medic, was killed trying to get wounded soldiers to a helicopter.
“I was wounded by a mortar and a hand grenade,” he said. “I was in the hospital for three and a half months. My best friend, James Verlin, was a medic who kept the wounded from bleeding to death. ... He was killed the same night when the helicopter was overrun by the North Koreans.”
Meanwhile, back in America, Betty Sullivan only got a telegram informing her that her husband was wounded. She heard no other news for two weeks until finally, the Red Cross sent her word on behalf of her husband, who was still too weak to write.
“God brought him back,” she said. “I’m a blessed woman. I had five brothers who served in World War II, and they all came back, my husband came back.”
The morning service wasn’t the only one held in Macon for Memorial Day. Chapter 443 of the Vietnam Veterans of America dedicated a bench in Rosa Parks Square on Monday afternoon to honor everyone who served in that conflict.
“(This event) is two-fold,” said chapter spokesman Bob Barry, who served with the 101st Airborne from 1965 to 1966 during the war. “We want to recognize the loss of our brothers and sisters during all wars, and we want to dedicated this bench. This is the second bench we have in Macon, with the other one on the River Walk. All this was done with money we raised.”
Retired Capt. Billy Robinson was the keynote speaker. Robinson, of Madisonville, Tenn., has a daughter and son-in-law serving at Robins Air Force Base.
“Eighty-nine young men (from Middle Georgia) gave their life in Vietnam,” said Robinson, who has the distinction of being the longest-held enlisted prisoner-of-war during Vietnam. “If only that bench could talk.”
Robinson told the crowd of about 100 of his experiences as a POW, including time spent at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. He was an Air Force flight engineer on a helicopter shot down in 1965 and wasn’t repatriated until 1973. Robinson, who was a non-commissioned officer when captured, was awarded a direct commission to the rank of second lieutenant after his release and has several citations for his service, including the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, the Air Force Cross and a direct commission. He described it as years of boredom punctuated by terror.
Despite the sacrifices made during overseas conflicts, many of the veterans Monday took great pride in their service.
Sullivan wore his Korean War uniform.
“Going through all that, but to still be an American — I’d do it again,” he said. “There’s no place like America.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.