Monday, May 28, 2012


Every year in church, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I make things personal for our little congregation. They're a great bunch of folks, many of whom are also veterans. While we always remember our fallen heroes in church at this time of year, a couple of years back I wanted to bring things more into focus.

I can't say that this is an original idea and I'm pretty sure I read about someone else doing this, somewhere. But I thought the idea had merit. Another factor in my decision to do this was an encounter I'd had with a Gold Star family up in the home state of Vermont.

The Missus and I had gone up to visit my Mom. Normally when we do this, we make a point of taking my Mom out to a nice restaurant. Now this time my Mom had suggested a place which some of our mutual friends were going to be at, so we thought, why not? Turned out it was the clubhouse of a golf course. Also turned out that the food was superb. (As was the company!)

To get to the point of this part of the story, after dinner I'd wandered out to the parking lot to have a smoke (one of my vices, not healthy, I know, but bear with me). As I'm walking around, trying my best to avoid inflicting my second-hand smoke on anyone, I saw a car with a distinctive license plate. I'd never seen one like this before, it was a Vermont plate which looked like this:

At first the significance of the plate didn't sink it.

After a moment, it sank in. Oh boy, did it ever.

I just stood there, literally at a loss for words. I could feel the tears welling up, especially when I noticed that there was a sticker in the back window, giving the soldier's name, rank and dates of service.

The cigarette was discarded and I slowly drew my old bones to attention and rendered a salute. As I dropped the salute, I heard a lady's voice, asking me if I was a veteran. Still in the grip of strong emotions, I turned to her and told her I was retired Air Force. I then asked if she was a member of this soldier's family. Turns out she was his sister.

I could think of nothing more to say than to tell her how much I appreciated her brother's sacrifice. I couldn't begin to feel her family's pain or grief. But I wanted her to know that I felt I owed my freedom to men (and women) who, like her brother, wore the uniform and paid the ultimate price.

We shook hands and parted company. I returned to our little dinner party in a much more somber mood than when I had left. My Mom asked me what was the matter, so I told her. She understood completely. A good friend of her's, they sing in her church choir together, had lost her son in Iraq. A Marine.

All of this stuck in my mind for quite some time. When the next Memorial Day Sunday came around, that's when I offered my personal tribute to the many who have gone before. It's a little thing, I know. But as I told the congregation, it's one thing to remember the dead in a general sense. But I felt that if we could each remember just one name of those who shed their blood for us, it might make this day more meaningful. I know it has for me. Every year for the past few, I have mentioned four names:

          Robert Bain, Royal Army, killed in action on the Western Front, WWI (my great-great uncle)

          Donald McFaul , United States Navy, killed in action, Panama

          Kurt Dechen, United States Marine Corps, killed in action, Fallujah, Iraq (son of my Mom's friend)

          Michael Murphy, United States Navy, killed in action, Afghanistan

This year, I will be adding a fifth name to my personal list:

          Carroll "Lex" LeFon, United States Navy, died at the controls of his fighter, NAS Fallon, Nevada

I encourage you all, if you haven't already, to make your own personal list of those who gave their today, so that we might have our tomorrows. On Memorial Day, say their names, let someone know that we, the American people, do not forget our dead. We honor them and we remember.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

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