Published 12:52 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2019
May is designated as Military Appreciation Month. Next week many of us will show our appreciation at multiple services that will be held next Monday at 11 a.m. Most of those services will be centered around a laying on of wreaths in respect for those who died while in conflicts around the world. I will be speaking at the service in South Hill.
For Jessie and I, Memorial Day will be only one day of remembrance of those who have given all. The following week, we will go to Bedford to be with those who gather at the D-Day Memorial. June 6 will mark the 75th anniversary of our troops landing on the beaches of Normandy.
Currently, World War II veterans are dying at the rate of over 2,000 every day. The World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission on which I serve as vice chairman is midway through our two-year recognition of the 100th and 75th anniversaries respectively. There is little expectation that enough survivors of those events 75 years ago will be able to attend future reunions. Therefore, we are transporting those survivors to Bedford and having several special events for them.
The D-Day event is the one that is most important to me for several reasons. First, I am a native of Bedford County, which as many know, lost more troops on D-Day than any other community. Second, in 1964, the book The Longest Day was published on the 20th anniversary. This was the first book that I had ever read that had people that I knew personally. Roy Stevens lived down the road; his kids were the age of my sisters. He recounted this in the book. He and his twin brother, Ray, were on the same landing craft. Roy reached to shake Ray’s hand. Ray refused, saying “we’ll shake on the beach.” Ray never made it to the beach; he died in the water. The story was sad enough with Ray’s death, but as long as I had known Roy, he was missing one hand. I had always assumed he had lost it in the war. I didn’t know until a couple of years before his death that he had actually lost it in a manufacturing accident after the war.
The third reason was Jessie’s father. He too had gone in on D-Day. He had never talked to his family on what happened during that invasion. As with many, if not most combat veterans, they never wanted to talk. They simply wanted to come home and return to the life and loved ones that were left. He did want to talk to me about those from Bedford that he had not seen for 40 years. They all served in the 29th division. That at the time was a unit that had members from many of the small towns in our area. Because of the poverty in our region after the depression, many young men joined the National Guard for a little spending money. When the army mobilized them, those young men were paired with the raw recruits from places like Staten Island, thus they were nicknamed “The Blue and the Gray.”
Of course, Memorial Day is for all those that have died in combat. I have focused on the World Wars today, but we must remember all, no matter how recent or long ago. We also must remember the widows and children of those troops. Their lives were torn apart in times of young hearts and often young children. Children that had but one parent to raise them when two are needed. We cannot change what has happened to those families, but we must do what we can to help those families and the families of those who return with mental and physical problems that few can understand. Reach out to help them whenever you can.
I hope that you will show your gratitude at one of next Monday’s services. In addition, hopefully some will be able to join us at the D-Day Monument June 6. It is well designed and worth the time to visit.
Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen. Ruff@verizon.net.