Herron remembers heroes for Memorial Day
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 8:01 pm
Dad got to England in July of 1944. Soon after he landed, he was on a landing craft headed for Normandy. As they crossed the English Channel, over the loudspeaker came the familiar voice of Roy Acuff singing, “The Great Speckled Bird.”
Years later, Dad would remember that no son of the South, and few from anywhere else, had dry eyes as Acuff sang that Grand Ole Opry favorite and their thoughts returned to home.
They hit Omaha Beach and before long were fighting in the hedgerows. A few days into combat, Dad was wounded, but it could have been much worse. For thousands, it was. So on he fought with his buddies, all part of the Ninth Infantry that famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle once called “a beautiful machine.”
About three months after Dad finished basic training, his Ninth Infantry claimed to be the first Allied force to start the liberation of Belgium. The GIs were greeted by throngs of happy Belgians who had waited four long years for freedom.
Did the soldiers always know what they fought for? For some, the words “freedom” and “home” were enough. Historian Stephen Ambrose in his Citizen Soldiers reports a soldier who, upon discovering the horrors behind the gates of a concentration camp, said, “Now I know why I am here.”
By September, almost none of the original men of Dad’s company, the men he started across France with, were still with him. Then his turn came. The Nazi mortar nearly took his life. The wounds and soon the infections that raged in his shrapnel-riddled legs then almost killed him. Finally, after nearly a year in hospitals in England the United States, he came home to Tennessee.
That was more six decades ago, yet for many families, the story is familiar. With wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans continue to hear stories of loved ones and neighbors serving as citizen soldiers with unthinkable courage and suffering tragedy unimaginable.
I think of my Weakley County neighbor, Billy Laird, whose soldier son Dustin died in Iraq. I think of another Weakley Countian, my friend Mike Morel, whose son, Marine Captain Brent Morel, also died in Iraq. I think of my friend Steve McConnell, an Army vet, who last year helped saved my mother’s life in a hospital intensive care unit. His son, Daniel, a helicopter pilot, was terribly injured and even lost an arm on a mission in Afghanistan.
We remember those who are gone and those who have suffered so, not only for their sake but also for our own.
President Abraham Lincoln said, “Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.” This Memorial Day, may we remember our American heroes. May we honor their sacrifice. And as we remember them, may we be inspired to follow their leadership and continue their legacy of patriotic service.