One of the CSRA's foremost advocates for veterans was the featured speaker Monday at American Legion Post 71's annual Memorial Day gathering, sharing some thoughts on priorities and gratitude with a capacity crowd at the group's headquarters.
Don Clark, an Army retiree also known as a local radio host and deputy director of ForcesUnited (the former Augusta Warrior Project), described the occasion as "one of those days that we get together and we celebrate our fallen, we celebrate their memory, we celebrate their sacrifice and we celebrate those who continue to carry their memories forward."
He commented on the occasion's meaning. "Today, our troops continue to make the ultimate sacrifices, and even as we lose troops, more Americans like my son … continue to step forward and proudly proclaim, 'I am ready to serve.' They follow in the footsteps of those before them, and with heads held high, march forward in defense of their country.
"For decades, Memorial Day was a day in our nation when stores closed and communities gathered together for a day of parades and other celebrations with a patriotic theme. Memorial Day meant ceremonies at cemeteries around the country, speeches honoring those who gave their lives, the laying of wreaths and the playing of 'Taps.'"
Clark, with a background including multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said some communities and organizations still engage in such observances. He cited the examples of Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, and Post 71.
Among his listeners was one of Aiken County's senior vets: Jack Kendall, 94 (born July 4), with a background that includes service in the Army Air Corps as a navigator who flew 24 missions in B-24 "Liberator" bombers, based in the Philippines.
Kendall gave the event a thumbs-up review for planning and presentation, and added, "It was better in the air-conditioning than out in the heat."
The Navy choir from Fort Gordon helped set the occasion to music, and the drill team from North Augusta High School's Naval Junior ROTC program had the day off, being relieved from its traditional role of performing a drill routine. The students, on Memorial Day, traditionally show their precision marching and rifle-handling skills on Georgia Avenue next to Wade Hampton Veterans Park, but the park was not used for this year's gathering due to concerns about high temperatures. Post 71's headquarters was the host site instead.
Clark, whose Army years included time at Fort Gordon, expressed his appreciation for years of guidance from recent Fort Gordon retiree Ron Price, an Army veteran with years of Post 71 leadership in his background.
He also gave thanks to – and for – longtime Post 71 leader Bob Ramsey, an Army veteran who led the charge in fundraising for the group's headquarters.
In keeping with tradition, the gathering included a reading of the names of Post 71 members who have died since the previous year's Memorial Day assembly.
This year's roll included Guy Thompson, Chuck M. Ashley, Malcolm Hitt, Raymond Deal, Frank Allen "Al" Mink Jr., J.C. McCormick, Leonard Garvin, Jim Harris, Bill Weger, Gerald Shanahan, Robert "Dan" Ewing Daniel Jr., Jodie Galloway and Vernon Davis Verdery Sr.
Clark, in his speech, noted that many Americans have lost their grip on the holiday's meaning. "Families might still gather for picnics, but for many of them, the patriotic core – the spirit of remembrance – is absent."
The day is "a time for Americans to reconnect with their history and their core values by honoring those who have given their lives for the ideals that we cherish," he said. "We in this country owe a great debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives so that we can continue to live free.
"How do we repay that debt? By never forgetting, by remembering what they did and what they stood for, and by continuing to serve our communities, protect our families and cultivate the next generation of patriots to defend and serve our great country."