On a hot Memorial Day morning, a small assembly of people from throughout Apalachicola paid tribute to America’s fallen soldiers, beneath the statue that speaks of their sacrifice.
Following an opening prayer from the Rev. Charles Scott, chaplain of American Legion Post 106, and a presentation of songs for the occasion by Charles Thompson, Al Mirabella, the post commander, stood at the base of the Three Servicemen Statue Detail at Veterans Memorial Plaza, and offered prepared remarks that spoke of the supreme sacrifice.
“One of the most painful scars of war is inflicted not on the veteran but on the people who love that veteran,” he began, referring to a poem by John Hunter Wickersham, a 28-year-old doughboy from World War I, who understood the anguish that his mother felt.
The final stanza of his poem, “The Raindrops on Your Old Tin Hat,” reads “And, fellows, she’s the hero of this great, big ugly war/ And her prayer is on the wind across the flat/ And don’t you reckon maybe it’s her tears, and not the rain/ That’s keeping up the patter on your old tin hat?”
Wickersham, a second lieutenant, was severely wounded in four places by a high explosive shell while he was serving with the Army’s 353rd Infantry Regiment near Limey, France. Before receiving aid for himself, he addressed the wounds of his orderly, and then continued to advance upon the enemy and fired his revolver with his left hand due to the wounds on his right. For his gallantry, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
“Wickersham’s poem was about mothers, but it could just as easily have described the heart ache of a wife, daughter or sister,” said Mirabella. “It could easily have described the anguish of a father, son, brother or husband who have felt the loss of the one million American heroes who have died for their country while serving in wars from the American Revolution to the current War on Terrorism.”
Mirabella then talked of the death this past April of Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, of the 7th Special Forces Group, whose death while fighting ISIS in Eastern Afghanistan left fatherless his five children.
“Unlike past wars, the end of the War on Terrorism will be less obvious,” said Mirabella. “There will be no surrender treaty signed aboard a battleship or in a diplomatic conference room. While wars today may be less defined, one fact is crystal clear: Our enemies want us dead.
“Fortunately, we have the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard doing all that they can to protect us. But it is up to us to remember their sacrifice,” he said. “Long after the battlefield guns have been silenced and the bombs stop exploding, the children of our fallen warriors will still be missing a parent. Spouses will be without their life partners. Parents will continue to grieve for their heroic sons and daughters that died way too early.”
He also cited the humanitarian missions that benefit innocent civilians in far off lands, as exemplified by Capt. Mary Therese Klinker, a flight nurse assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines whose C-5A Galaxy crashed outside of Saigon as it was helping to evacuate Vietnamese orphans.
He closed with mention of a letter written by the 14-year-old daughter of Command Sgt. Major James Blankenbecler, who was killed in Iraq. “Little things that I took for granted when you were here seem priceless now,” she wrote. “I will always be your little girl and I will never forget that.”
Mirabella paid tribute to the fallen in his closing. “Most of those who die in war are young. Whether teenaged troops or middle-aged commanders, we do know that they left us too early,” he said. “But can any of us who are living say that we accomplished more in our fuller life spans than those who we honor today?
“For what they lacked in time, they made up for in valor. Selfless bravery is not gained with experience but an innate quality that is instilled into character – a process that usually involves strong parents or siblings. It is these special families that produce the outstanding men and women who have given everything for our freedom. These families are the fabric of our nation,” he said.
His remarks were followed by a dance presentation by Pam Nobles Dancers, both young people and adults. As the closed, a line of veterans on hand for the service filed through them, to the audience’s applause.