I was driving somewhere the other day when I heard a Memorial Day radio ad for a Savannah car dealership saluting veterans.
Not for the first time, and probably not for the last, I was a bit bemused that so many people get it sideways.
Memorial Day isn’t about veterans. That’s what Veterans’ Day is for. Memorial Day is about and for the approximately 1.1 million American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who lost their lives in war and never got to be veterans.
At least, that’s how I’d always looked at it.
Then I thought of Savannah Police Department Sgt. Kelvin Ansari Sr., killed May 11 in the line of duty when he was shot responding to a call of a robbery, and I realized I am too narrow minded. Surely, Ansari, who spent 21 years in the Army and deployed to Iraq and other places before he retired, fits that description of a veteran who gave all for something bigger than himself.
That’s why Ansari will be in my thoughts this Memorial Day. So will Mark Hummeldorf, a Parris Island firefighter killed in an early morning wreck in 2017 in Savannah. He lived in Richmond Hill and was husband to Richmond Hill High School softball coach Angie Hummeldorf, one of my favorites when I covered sports.
Mark Hummeldorf joined the Marines at 19 and earned a Purple Heart in 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq. A veteran, he kept giving when he got out, serving with a number of area fire departments as a master firefighter and paramedic.
No, war didn’t take their lives, but Mark Hummeldorf and Kelvin Ansari were heroes too, and they deserve a mention on Memorial Day, along with Capt. Matthew Freeman, a much-beloved local kid from a time when Richmond Hill was still a small town and everybody really knew everybody. He grew up to become a Marine pilot, then volunteered for combat duty in Afghanistan.
Freeman was killed Aug. 7 2009. The paragraph below is from a memorial plaque on the Freeman Barracks and is cited on several websites:
“Capt. Matthew Freeman was a C-130 Hercules pilot.He volunteered for an individual augmentee position with 4th Marines embedded training team and deployed to Afghanistan on 23 July. On 7 August, Captain Freeman was conducting operations with 1st Battalion , 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps, Afghan National Army. Captain Freeman was engaged in Operation Brest Thunder in one of the most dangerous regions within the 201st Corps area of operations when his team came under heavy enemy fire. He led his men to a building where they could locate a better firing position and was the first to reach the roof, killing a Taliban insurgent attempting to shoot a rocket propelled grenade at his team. While continuing to engage insurgents, Capt. Freeman was mortally wounded in the ensuing exchange of fire. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Combat “V” posthumously for his actions. He graduate in 2002 from the United States Naval Academy and is laid to rest in the United States Naval Academy Cemetery and Columbarium.”
Freeman wanted to help make the world a better place. His existence did that.
Another hero is Marine Staff Sgt. Joel Dameron, a Bryan County High School grad from Ellabell who was killed Oct. 30, 2005 while on a patrol in Iraq. Another is Army Ranger Staff Sgt. Jason Dahlke, a Richmond Hill resident killed Aug. 29, 2009, in Afghanistan, three weeks after Freeman.
Finally, from a more distant war, there’s Army First Lieut. John Gordon Bacon, possibly the most decorated war hero in Pembroke history. Bacon was a member of the 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, according to the Korean War Remembrance Site. He was killed Sept. 3, 1951 while “fighting the enemy in North Korea.” Bacon was all of 21.
His gallantry earned him both the Silver Star and Bronze Star, and Bacon’s casket was brought home to Pembroke by train, according to Pembroke Administrator Alex Floyd, who is also a local historian of some repute.
When the train got to Pembroke, “everybody went to the station to meet him,” Floyd said. “His grave is in Northside Cemetery.”
A photo of Bacon’s tombstone is at the bottom of this column. If you get the chance, stop by his grave this weekend and tell him thanks for everything. While you’re at it, thank them all.