“The kids today don’t know the history. That’s because their teachers and parents don’t know. But I try to tell them.”
These are the words of Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, who was the navigator and now the last survivor of the special crew of the Enola Gay. The Enola Gay is the B-29 Superfortress which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945. His comment was in response to a high school student telling him that World War II was “when we and the Germans fought the Russians.”
Over the past few days I attended three Memorial Day services and, except for the one at the Capitol, I saw very few children and young adults. Why don’t the teachers and parents of our children know their history? Is it because they are products of the Vietnam and post-Vietnam era when bad decisions by the government led to so much negative publicity about the war that they are ignoring all 20th Century History?
Wars are horrible, but they are part of history. Our loved ones fought and died so that we as a people, a country, would remain free. Not only that, but we are the only people in the history of the world to lay down our lives so that other countries, other peoples, might be free. We might not like a war, but let us never dishonor those who did their duty.
When we of the older generation were school children, our teachers took us on Memorial Day to decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers, which we had brought from home.
This tradition started in Dahlonega in the spring of 1866, two years before it was first officially observed on 30 May 1868, by the placing of flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
According to Cain’s History of Lumpkin County: “Early in the spring of 1866, a number of Dahlonega’s earnest, true hearted Southern women conceived the idea of decorating with flowers, the graves of the soldiers buried at Mt. Hope cemetery.” Cain goes on to say: “At the time appointed, all the men, women and children of the town assembled at the Methodist church to do honor to the occasion.”
Two things stand out in that quote. First, all the graves of soldiers would be decorated; and second, all the people of Dahlonega were present to process to the cemetery. By those standards how meager our remembrances are today.
Last Thursday the Governor led the Memorial service to remember Georgia soldiers who had been killed since May 15, 2008. The keynote address was by General Charles Campbell, Fort McPherson. General Campbell is the last active duty Army Officer to have served in Vietnam.
General Campbell chose Isaiah 6:8 to reflect on the bravery and sense of honor and duty of the American soldier. “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”
Following the keynote speech, Army Chaplain Blair Davis read the names, ranks, and hometowns of Georgia’s 10 “fallen heroes.” The ceremony ended with the Governor and General recognizing the family members. Colonel William Cain of Dahlonega acted as Master of Ceremonies.
As Christian song writer Randy Vader once wrote about Memorial Day: “The story of America’s quest for freedom is inscribed on her history in the blood of her patriots.”
As a retired U.S. Army officer and Vietnam veteran, I take pride in remembering our military and all their sacrifices on Memorial Day 2009.
Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; (706) 864-6589; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.