The events that occurred during Memorial Day week to include the flag-laying ceremony at Sunset Hill Cemetery, the Memorial Day celebration and the visit by U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, to kick off the Veterans History Project made me proud.
While I was covering the flag ceremony the day prior to Memorial Day, the scene at the cemetery inspired me. There were the ever-faithful members from various military organizations and groups from the community, and the Air Force Junior ROTC cadets from Lowndes High School who showed up at 10 a.m. to honor those who went before. There were also family members, in particular veterans and their children, who participated. What better way to teach today's youth than have them actually see and be involved in honoring those who served and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we often take for granted. It may be a cliche, but it's very true -- "Freedom isn't Free."
The timing couldn't have been more perfect because of the tremendous job that the military has done during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. By the way, that also goes for those in the military serving stateside or at other overseas locations. It's a team effort. If someone has served during a time when the United States wasn't involved in a conflict, they can hold their head up with pride. It meant they kept the peace and contrary to what some may believe, the military exists to keep the peace. Going to war is a last resort.
Another inspiration has been the support for the military from a majority of the American people, regardless what their political party loyalties may be. The overall support has been what the military would call "OUTSTANDING." I remember a time when that wasn't the case.
In past columns I have asked veterans, especially those from World War II, to come forward and tell their stories. My father only opened up to me shortly before his death in 1969. I know he didn't even scratch the surface and his stories are lost forever. That's why I felt very honored when Kingston's office asked me to participate in the Veterans History Project at the old terminal building at the Valdosta Regional Airport on May 29.
My humble part was to interview a World War II veteran who would be videotaped for inclusion in the Library of Congress archives. Originally, I was to interview Mr. A.M. "Hambone" Larsen, who was a Pearl Harbor survivor. Due to his health, he was unable to participate. This reinforces the fact World War II veterans are being lost at a rate of over a 1,000 a day.
Thanks to the efforts of Phil Youngblood, commander, American Legion Post 13, I was able to interview Ormond Rolfe, a flight engineer/top turret gunner on board a B-17 bomber during World War II, who talked about one of the 31 missions he flew over German occupied territory. When I asked Rolfe which mission it was, he couldn't remember. But, one thing he said that caught everyone's attention was that each mission had its own story. We were fortunate he shared his experiences with us.
After the interview, Kingston stressed that grandchildren often won't listen to their parents. Let their grandparents who lived and experienced World War II speak, however, and young people are all ears.
There are over 19 millions veterans in the United States from War World I to the Gulf Wars, and every one of them has at least one story. Only about 7,000 have told their stories. I urge all veterans to come forward and share your experiences. The Veterans History Project is your unique opportunity to become a part of your country's history.
To contact reporter Rip Prine please call 244-3400 ext. 237.
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