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Memorial Day a chance to honor midstate veterans who died for this country

Each year, Mercer University law professor John Cole takes his military law students to Andersonville National Historic Site to remember the soldiers who suffered and died there as prisoners during the Civil War.

“Not only is it a national cemetery, but it was also the largest prisoner of war camp in the U.S.,” said Cole, a major in the Army National Guard who serves with the 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade out of Fort Benning. “I hope they get a sense of the horror of being a POW. I hope they realize how important it is in the law to treat prisoners.

“It’s part of the sacrifice and risk our service members endure when they serve,” he said. “They have the potential to be captured by the enemy. Civilization is only civilized on how it treats the powerless, and no one is more powerless than a POW.”

Cole makes it a point to visit across the midstate the various monuments, cemeteries and markers of soldiers who died in the service of this country.

While Memorial Day provides a time for the country to recognize and remember those who died, there’s a danger that memorial markers can become so ubiquitous that they fade into the background, said Phil Comer, a Macon historian who leads the fall Rose Hill Ramble at the cemetery.

“I feel that with people, it’s been put into the woodwork,” he said. “They don’t always notice the things that are right here.”

Comer said when he visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., there’s a tremendous impact because often the children and the grandchildren of those whose names are inscribed on the wall often visit to honor the person who served during the war. But as time progresses and those descendents give way to future generations, the impact of the monuments might not be the same, he said.

“What’s the Vietnam memorial going to be like 100 years from now?” Comer said. “Will it have the same effect? That generation is slowly blinking out on us. As generations recede, they forget the people (listed on the monuments) and forget the horrors of war.”

Comer and Cole mentioned several memorials across the midstate that pay tribute to veterans who died in military service during many different wars, and it’s nearly impossible to find a cemetery that doesn’t have at least some markers for soldiers who died.

Rose Hill Cemetery, Comer said, has a large number of Confederate soldiers’ graves and holds a service each April for Confederate Memorial Day. Riverside Cemetery also does its part in recognizing the graves of veterans, he said.

Other notable sites in Macon that honor fallen soldiers include:

Linwood Cemetery: This cemetery, located in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, contains the remains of several of Macon’s veterans, most notably Sgt. Rodney Maxwell Davis, a Marine who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War, and George Vining, who served aboard the USS California and died during the raid on Pearl Harbor, becoming the first World War II casualty from Macon.

Rosa Parks Square/Macon Coliseum: Speaking of Davis, the city has honored its only Medal of Honor recipient with a statue in front of the Macon Coliseum in front of a monument and benches honoring soldiers from Bibb, Jones, Monroe, Peach, Houston, Crawford and Twiggs counties who were killed during World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Rosa Parks Square, across the street from the Macon-Bibb County Government Center, there’s a monument to Davis and a bench dedicated to Vietnam veterans. Nearby on Poplar Street, there’s a monument dedicated to Southern women who lived here during the Civil War.

Camp Hope Cemetery: Located off Shurling Drive, the camp started out as a temporary fort during the War of 1812 because Fort Hawkins was too small to accommodate the number of troops in Macon.

Coleman Hill: The hill contains a large monument dedicated to the members of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion and the 42nd Rainbow Division who were killed during World War I. There’s also a monument with more than 200 names of Macon soldiers killed during World War II.

A third monument is dedicated to the late U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. While Russell didn’t serve in the armed forces, he was one of the key supporting political figures during the 20th century. Some of his achievements include serving as chairman of the Naval Affairs and Armed Services committees, helping to create Robins Air Force Base and reopening Camp Wheeler.

It’s a special privilege to visit any place that honors the troops, especially on Memorial Day, Cole said.

“If there’s an opportunity to honor someone who died thousands of miles from home, then we should take the time to do so,” he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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