Thanks to Arnold Rosen of Sun City Hilton Head for sharing his story of Memorial Day.
He serves as a historian for the Sun City Veterans Association, and his two books -- "Keeping Memories Alive" and "Before It's Too Late" -- profile 82 local veterans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"In Memory of our Veterans"
By Arnold Rosen
Today is Memorial Day, and it is time for some of us to reflect on what exactly this day means. It is a day that Americans come together to commemorate the lives of U.S. soldiers and other military personnel who sacrificed their lives in honor of their country.
In Sun City, our Veterans Association will honor the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also recognize and thank the many men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
I was privileged to go on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., last October. Our group was able to see the graves of thousands of men and women at Arlington National Cemetery. Each of those tombstones marks a great American hero. And this is what Memorial Day commemorates: the brave men and women who lie underneath that sacred ground gave their lives selflessly, thinking not of themselves but the future of our great country.
Once 16 million strong, U.S. veterans of World War II are dying at a rapid rate. With every passing day, the "greatest generation" of war veterans are taking a piece of history with them.
Thanks to many of our Sun City veterans, and with the help and encouragement of their families, I was able to record 82 veteran profiles in two books. And I continue to chronicle the stories of veterans in our magazine, SunSations.
Each veteran -- whether they were a Marine, sailor, soldier or airman -- has his or her story to tell. The one profile that stands out in my mind, and is worthy of repeating on this special day, is that of Earl Rogers.
On June 26, 2012, a proud American hero passed away, and people who knew him were moved.
"He was not only a hero, but a true gentleman and man of honor. Tears filled my eyes when I listened to the beautiful tributes at his funeral service." -- Renee Fordyce.
"This is such sad news. Earl was a quiet person, but when you got him to talk he was a fountain of information. He really did a fine job in the documentary, 'Shoe Box Memories.' It is sad to have lost him and the others -- Gene McGuire, Bob Holly and Sam Najarian. They had such a great way of delivering a message when explaining their experiences." -- Al Breininger.
Earl served our country with honor during World War II as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne 506th Regiment. He was awarded many medals for his contributions, including multiple Purple Hearts, Bronze and Silver stars.
He was a survivor of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. His last mission was the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. This final act of service was the one significant event he would tell you haunted his memory for life. He describes the camp in graphic detail in "Shoe Box Memories," ending his narrative with: "And I never want to see anything like that again."
I showed this documentary to several community groups and I recall that when Earl uttered these final words, the music came on, the credits rolled down the screen, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.
Earl's story will live on in the book and the documentary for his widow, Ruby, and his children and grandchildren.
"Shoe Box Memories" included Dr. Charles Aimar, Fred Anderson, Elaine Barlett, Fly Flanagan, Hal Harriman, Bob Holly, Sam Najarian, Earl Rogers, George Scuffos, Bernard Warshaw. It showed at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts and elsewhere.
DAY TO REMEMBER
They all had stories to tell. Some -- like those of Sam Najarian and Gene McGuire -- were funny. Then there were those not so funny, like some of the vets who were shot down, bailed out, captured and then spent months as a POW in Germany. Others were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy and the Coral Islands of the Pacific.
But when duty summoned in our nation's time of need, they answered the call and served with honor and courage.
At war's end, they returned home and immediately went on to create interesting and useful lives as productive members of society.
I will always remember the scene in the movie "Saving Private Ryan" when the aged Private Ryan asks his wife: "Have I led a good life? Am I a good man?"
She shows surprise at the question, and answers: "Yes, you are."
Earl never asked Ruby that question. Ruby knew he was a good man.
Earl and many of the veterans I came to know have led exemplary lives. When we talked, they were in the twilight of their lives. They weren't perfect, by any means, but were kind and decent and left behind something of value to the next generation.
It mattered little to them whether their aspirations or dreams were realized. What matters is that they did their duty, and in doing so made the world a better place. And for all of us when we look back over our life, can we say that we fought the good fight, that we did what was right, and that we made a difference in this world?
Memorial Day should be a special time to remember how blessed we are in this great country because of those who kept us safe.
And while you're enjoying the steaks, burgers or hot dogs, and other pleasantries, take time this Memorial Day to attend (and participate in) a Memorial Day ceremony. Stand and recite our Pledge of Allegiance; sing the National Anthem; and thank a vet for his or her service to our country.
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