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.

 

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.