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Posted on Jun 10, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Some Reflections on Memorial Day 2008

By Carlo D'Este

President George W. Bush lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, on Memorial Day 2008 in this Department of Defense photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley. In Ohio, an 84-year-old veteran annually honors war dead in his own way, as Carlo D'Este explains in this story.

He gives back this way. But he does it quietly, and he does it alone.

By the time this is posted another Memorial Day has already passed. On May 26 I was in Ohio to attend my granddaughter’s high school graduation. For the most part it seemed to be just another of our long holiday weekends. Jack Nicklaus’s annual “Memorial” golf tournament was about to commence in nearby Dublin, the Columbus Crew lost in the final minutes of a thrilling MLS soccer game, and along the scenic Scioto River boaters were out taking advantage of the warm weather. The malls were filled with shoppers and I wondered just how many of those shopping in Wal-Mart, Macys, Best Buy, and in myriad other places across America even knew why they had been blessed with an extra-long holiday weekend. Cynic that I am, I suspect very few. At 3:00 p.m., the hour set aside to officially commemorate the fallen with a National Moment of Remembrance, I pondered how many people actually stopped to reflect on the sacrifice made by so many so that the rest of us could enjoy our freedom. I understand the apathy but I don’t have to like it.

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On Memorial Day, May 26, 2008, the local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, contained several poignant articles that in a sense mitigated the general public apathy and reinforced my belief in the goodness of America as a nation of caring people. One article in particular that caught my attention was set in rural Hardin County, located some forty-miles north of Columbus. In the 2000 census Hardin County’s population was just over 31,000, a number that has barely changed since 1900.

Written by reporter Holly Zachariah, “A warrior’s dignity” is the story of a great American, an 84-year old World War II veteran named Lloyd Ford, a paratrooper who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, earned a Combat Infantry Badge and four Purple Hearts. One of those four wounds consists of a shard of German shrapnel still inside his head. Ford, who was a staff sergeant in the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment (which won a Presidential Unit Citation in the Battle of the Bulge), also lost his left arm in a weapons training accident during the war.

In what can only be described as a labor of love and dedication, for the past dozen years or so Mr. Ford, who hails from the tiny town of Mount Victory in the southeastern part of the county, has taken it upon himself to see that flags are placed on some 600 graves in ten rural cemeteries in Hardin, Logan and Union Counties. He does this without fanfare, even though his advancing age slows his pace. No one told him to perform this annual ritual and he cannot even name the cemeteries where he places these flags. But he is a man who practices the West Point creed of Duty, Honor, Country. When Mr. Ford saw that a need existed, he stepped forward, seeking no credit or publicity, but simply doing what he regards as his duty to those who, like him, have served their nation. His task is complicated by the fact that some records are incomplete or missing and it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to determine which graves are those of veterans, particularly ones that date to the Civil War.

Often he relies on memory that a certain grave is that of a veteran. When asked why he does it, Mr. Ford told reporter Holly Zachariah, “Somebody probably dropped dead, and it left the job open. Plus, I like to stay busy.” Mr. Ford’s wife, Ethel, said of her husband, “He gives back this way. But he does it quietly, and he does it alone.”

He not only maintains the flags, some of them old and rather beat up but also the flag holders. Sadly, an estimated 1,000 have gone missing, many stolen by vandals. Money is tight for maintaining such things, so Ford repairs what he can in his home workshop.

There are hundreds of rural cemeteries across America containing the graves of veterans. In tight economic times corners are invariably cut and in cases like this, where despicable thieves steal flag holders to sell the metal for scrap, there are often no funds to replace them.

One wonders – once Mr. Ford is no longer around to perform this annual ritual will someone step forward, or will these graves will go unmarked by flags on future Memorial Days?

Anyone who questions why those of the World War II era have been called “The Greatest Generation,” need only mark the example of Lloyd Ford, who makes us all proud to be Americans. God bless him and those like him who never forget. They are one of the principal reasons why we have the freedom to enjoy our long weekends.

My thanks to reporter Holly Zachariah for a superb public service article.

Click here to read Holly Zachariah’s article, “A warrior’s dignity.”

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