Remembering those who served

The faded and worn plaque honoring the World War I military service of Pvt. Robert W. McPeak of the U.S. Army.
The faded and worn plaque honoring the World War I military service of Pvt. Robert W. McPeak of the U.S. Army.

For most of my life, Memorial Day has been a time to remember and honor family and friends who served this nation.

Often, it included a trip to Washington for Rolling Thunder, the annual gathering of motorcyclists — many of them veterans — who ride in the honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Amy and I lived in the Washington area when Rolling Thunder began in 1988 as a mission to bring “full accountability” for prisoners of war and those missing in action.  I rode in the first eight Thunders in recent ones up until 2012, when an encounter with a cow near the bottom of Bent Mountain put me out of action for a while.

Photo assignments kept me away from Thunder this year but I fired up one of my Harleys and headed out on Memorial Day to remember my grandfather, a veteran of World War I, and others that I knew and lost from wars ranging from WW II through Vietnam and later in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some rest now in the Southwestern Virginia Veterans Cemetary in Dublin.  After some time alone with my granddad — Robert Walter McPeak of Meadows of Dan — I rode from the cemetery at Buffalo Mountain Church over to Dublin to visit others.

I stood alone at the crypt that contained ashes of two friends,  For a time, the bike and I were alone in the expansive cemetery.  A couple with a young child arrived a little later to visit the grandfather of the husband.  He died in Vietnam.  We talked briefly.  He never knew his dad.

My dad, Electricians Mate William D. Thompson, served in the Pacific battles of World War II.  He was on the battleship Missouri when the Japanese surrendered in 1945 and a photo of him with Gen. Douglas McArthur lies faded in one of my mother’s scrapbooks.

Like the young man who lost his father in Vietnam, I don’t remember my dad.  He survived World War II but died in an industrial accident at the U.S. Phosphorous Plant in Gibsonton, Florida, in 1949, a little more than a year after I was born.  I will visit him on a planned motorcycle trip to Florida this summer.

Memorial Day is set aside as the time to honor and remember those who wore the uniforms of military service and gave their lives for their country.

Service to one’s country too often seems lost in today’s “me first” society.  We have a candidate for President this year who made fun of former Navy pilot and prisoner of war John McCain, saying he was not a hero because “he got caught” by the enemy.  That candidate used multiple deferments and a questionable “medical condition” to avoid service during the Vietnam War.

Ironically, that same candidate — flamboyant billionaire Donald Trump — appeared as a speaker for Rolling Thunder this year and was cheered on by a surprising number of vets for campaign promises who has no intention of keeping.

Sadly, on a day dedicated to remembering those who helped protect the lives we lead, some seem to have short memories when it comes to the carnival known as politics.

The final resting place of friends at the Veterans Cemetery of Southwestern Virginia in Dublin.
The final resting place of friends at the Veterans Cemetery of Southwestern Virginia in Dublin.

 

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