Meeting two groups of military veterans from different generations left an indelible mark on U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter.
They have been two of the more memorable experiences of Carter’s first few months in Congress, he told the crowd gathered Monday for Richmond Hill’s annual Memorial Day observance at J.F. Gregory Park.
The first encounter was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Carter, R-Ga., and other members of Congress met U.S. troops who had lost limbs or suffered other serious injuries while serving the country.
Not long after that, Carter met a group of World War II veterans from the Savannah and Brunswick areas who were visiting Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial.
“I was really intrigued that both groups told me the same thing,” Carter said, commending “the patriotism that I witness from these great Americans — both those who are currently serving and those who have served us before.”
With both the younger and older service members, Carter said he began by thanking them for their military service.
“The wounded warriors and the World War II veterans both looked at me and said, ‘Sir, I was just doing my job. I did what I had to do,’” Carter recalled. “Secondly, both the wounded warriors and the World War II veterans both told me, ‘It’s not me who is a hero, sir. It’s those who didn’t come back. Those are our heroes.’”
Carter said that those similar experiences with the two groups of veterans emphasized to him that the United States is “very blessed to have the greatest military in the world.” He stressed the importance of paying tribute to those who made “the ultimate sacrifice.”
Fausto Tenen, the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7331 in Richmond Hill, agreed. However, he added that having observances on the last Monday of May should be just the beginning of honoring the lives lost in military service.
“Remembering our brave fallen heroes once a year is not enough,” Tenen said. “We need to remember them every day. They gave their lives defending this country for us to be here today.”
‘Day of solemn celebration’
The observance concluded with Lt. Col. James Embry, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment on Fort Stewart, and Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler laying a wreath at the Richmond Hill Veterans Monument.
That was followed by a 21-gun salute by 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and the playing of taps by Sgt. Tim Saia.
The solemn ending to the program reflected the words Embry shared prior to the wreath laying. He offered a different take on Memorial Day than it being a remembrance of the sacrifice made by service men and women.
“For me, Memorial Day is day of solemn celebration,” Embry said. “It’s a celebration of courage. It’s a celebration of valor. It’s a celebration of honor. And a celebration of love.”
Embry shared stories of veterans who exemplified those traits. Though the men and women might not be household names, he pointed out the difference they made to countless troops.
One was Lt. Col. Annie Graham, who died in Vietnam while serving as the chief nurse at the 91st Evacuation Hospital in Tuy Hoa.
“At the time of her service in Vietnam, she was already a veteran twice over,” Embry said. “Her love of country, her love of service, her love of soldiers compelled her to serve during World War II and Korea. So today, for me, is a solemn celebration of the values that make soldiers like Annie possible.”
Courage was personified by Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro of the U.S. Coast Guard, Embry said. Munro died at age 22 at Guadalcanal after he volunteered to evacuate Marines who were under attack from a large Japanese force.
Leading a small detachment of Higgins boats used for amphibious landings, Munro guided the Marines’ boats to shore. The rear guard weathered heavy machine gun fire from the enemy.
“He deliberately maneuvered his boat to shield them from those machine-gun emplacements,” Embry said. “A mortally wounded Munro remained conscious just long enough to utter his last words: ‘Did they get off?’”
That same type of valor was shown by Air Force pilot Maj. Charles Loring, Embry told the crowd. Loring, 34, sacrificed his own life in the Korean War in an attack on a Chinese battery that was firing on U.N. ground troops.
“Time and again, his plane was hit by ground fire during his repeated attacks,” Embry said. “Maj. Loring, instead of ejecting and risk becoming a POW — again — aimed his F-80 directly at the gun positions and deliberately crashed into it, destroying it and saving the forces on the ground.”
Stories of courage like those, Embry said, can be passed on to inspire future generations. He concluded his remarks by asking everyone in attendance to join in his “solemn celebration” of Memorial Day.
“I know, as a veteran, that my fight is not over,” Embry said.