Two hundred and fourteen. That’s the number of servicemen from York County who have paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting America’s wars over the past century.
The names of all of them, from the fields of France to the mountains of Afghanistan, are carved into a stone monument in Lakeview Memorial Gardens, between York and Clover, on what’s labeled the Field of Honor.
And on Sunday, all 214 names were read aloud there, among a crowd of comrades who did come back from those conflicts, along with family, friends and those who simply wanted to show their support the day before America formally remembers its war dead on Memorial Day.
Sunday’s ceremony is an annual commemoration organized by the York County Veterans Advisory Council, held every year since the veterans’ monument was erected in 1986.
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“We agreed it would only be those who died in combat, KIA,” said T.J. Martin, a charter member of the veterans council and a former Korean War POW, using the military abbreviation for “killed in action.”
“If I had died in a Korean prisoner camp, my name would not be on it.”
Those who survived the wars of the 20th century – in the form of an alphabet soup of veterans organizations – memorialized the fallen with much ceremony, presenting flags, wreaths, taps, a 21-gun salute. The ceremony recognized every branch of the military and veterans of every war within living memory.
Three Gold Star moms, who lost their children to conflict, were handed flowers, and 99-year-old Iwo Jima veteran Raburn Miller was recognized long enough to let the crowd know he still plans to get his driver’s license renewed.
Former soldier Allan Miller gave the keynote address at the event, highlighting the sacrifice of servicemen, from the patriots who died a short distance away on Kings Mountain to his own father’s service at the Battle of the Bulge, where he received a Purple Heart.
“Whenever I complained about it being cold, he would say, ‘You should have been in Germany in 1944,’” Miller remembered.
But much of this speech focused on those of his own generation who never returned from the jungles of Vietnam, including his sister’s young boyfriend who volunteered to join the Marines.
“They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of the ’60s and early ’70s,” Miller said. “They chose not to flee to Canada as draft dodgers, but to answer the call of duty that ultimately led to their deaths.”
Memorial Day reminds us of the cost of answering that call, Miller said, but it also reminds us of the need for vigilance in a violent world.
“If we care about peace, we must remain strong,” he said. “That is the lesson of the past century.”
For many of those who took part in the ceremony, it was a difficult lesson to learn at the cost of so many young lives, and even with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the holiday, it remains a somber one.
“This is a solemn ceremony,” said Robert Sweet, chair of the Veterans Advisory Council. “It’s hard to express how deep the feelings go, especially for those who served in the military. I’m sure a tear came to the eye of many.”
Martin, the former POW, was thankful for everyone who spent a part of their Sunday memorializing his fallen comrades.
“They paid a heck of a price,” he said. “This event is sad for me.”
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062