Thoughts on Memorial Day

Three Wars, Three Men

January 15, 1969, I shot this photo in Athens, Ohio. I ran it  7-3/4 inches wide by 12-1/4 inches deep with the following caption, reflecting the self-absorption of a 22-year old:

three wars, three men: With most of our attention focused on Vietnam, it is easy to forget that other men of other years had their wars, too. Fate has placed three veterans in the same room at Sheltering Arms Hospital. They are Bill Howell, World War I, Jim Gates, World War II, and Clyde Edmundson, the Spanish-American War.

No Spanish-American War vets left

The last Spanish-American War veteran died in 1992 or 1993, depending on which account you read. The Last Veterans website has fascinating information for history buffs.

Frank Buckles of Bethany, MO, was born Feb. 1, 1901. When he was 16, he told an Army he he was 18. The recruiter told him to go home to his mommy. Frank decided a big lie might work better than a small one, so he told the next recruiter he was 21. As of this writing, he is America’s last surviving veteran of World War I. You can learn more about him at his website.

It’s hard to believe that our generation’s Vietnam vets are getting as gray as these fellows I shot in 1969.

Cape’s Freedom Corner

In mid-summer 1942, America was rejoicing in the defeat of the Imperial Japanese fleet in the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea. Cape Girardeans, a Missourian story reported, gathered at the corner of Capaha Park to dedicate four brick pillars holding two honor roll boards listing the names of 1,295 men and women serving in the armed forces.

Feb. 3, 1943, two large eagles from the salon of the steamer Bald Eagle were mounted atop the middle pillars. By 1944, the Honor Roll had grown to more than 3,700 names, with 60 gold stars alongside those who had died in the war.

The honor roll was taken down after the war ended. It was replaced in 1950 by the first memorial plaques to honor Cape Girardeau County servicemen killed or missing in action during World War II. Since then, plaques have been added honoring those from the county who died in World War I, Korea and Vietnam.

A replica of the Statue of Liberty was presented to the city by the Boy Scouts in 1950 and the corner became known as Freedom Corner. By 1997, the pillars had deteriorated to the point of collapse. The American Legion spearheaded an effort to get them rebuilt.

Homemade Memorial for Gulf War

I was riding my bike up Flagler Blvd. in West Palm Beach on a March day in 2007 when I saw a field of hand-lettered Corafoam tombstones in a city park. It was a homemade traveling memorial to the men and women who had died as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I pushed my bike along every row, reading every name, sometimes with eyes brimming with tears at the waste of a generation. One name was missing.

Elizabeth Jacobson

Liz, as we called her, was my son Adam’s former girlfriend. She lived with us briefly before she joined the Air Force. When she came back from boot camp, she was one squared-away young woman who seemed to have her life figured out.

On Sept. 28, 2005, she was providing security on a convoy when the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb. Liz and Army Sgt. Steve Morin, Jr., of Arlington, TX, were killed; a third solider was injured, but survived.

She was 21 years old.

She has the dubious honor of being the first female airman killed in the line of duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We’re only on earth for a little while”

I called Adam. He got permission from the organizers to add her “stone” to the memorial. On it, he wrote some lines that she had sent him: “We’re only on this earth for a little while, so live life to the fullest and carry a smile.”

Here is a website dedicated to Airman First Class Elizabeth Jacobson.


11 Replies to “Thoughts on Memorial Day”

  1. I am speechless and overwhelmed when I think of your Liz and all the others who have sacrificed their lives for me…and our entire country! I have so much empathy for those of you who have suffered a personal loss that I can’t think about it because it hurts too much…however, I and we MUST think about it and give our deepest “thanks”. God Bless!

  2. I am so grateful to Liz and to all who have fallen for our freedoms. Her story of unselfish sacrifice leaves me silent in prayer. God rest her young soul forever and ever!

  3. Every year there is a Memorial Day Service at Lake Saint Louis. It has been my honor to attend and participate in those services as a member of the Fire Service. Remembered and honored are the veterans of all Wars but personally I alway remember school mates from the class of 1964-Gary Schemel and Bob Taylor, neither who came back from Vietnam.

    Additionally anytime I see a veteran wearing a WWII ball cap, I go up and thank them of their service. Those opportunities are getting fewer and fewer. I am in Sun City West Az this year and will miss my first LSL Memorial Day, but will have opportunities see some of those WWII veterans, one in particular is a 99 year old former Marine who reenlisted to serve in World War II.

    My THANKS to all VETERANS, living and dead!

  4. These are very impressive…very touching. Your opportunity and timing as related to the picture of the 3 war vets is incredible.

  5. Pictures are worth even more than a thousand words. Sometimes I feel that all we need for purposes of good memory or commemoration are good photos and their captions. Thanks to those like Ken who do so.

  6. “Blessed with vict’ry and peace may the Heav’n rescued land praise the power that hath made and preserved us a Nation.”
    Francis Scott Key

  7. This is a wonderful effort to display to America one little town in many of its facets. As an activist, with an Army colonel son, I am working for the day when our children (and 18 year olds ARE children) are carefully given the facts by combat veterans before succumbing to the lure of the Pied Pipers of Death, the recruiters. Too many of our finest are giving too much just because they didn’t have all the facts before they signed. Another reason for the increase in suicides: their own realization of their gullability. Naivete can sometimes be fatal.

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