05/27/08 — Heroes not forgotten

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Heroes not forgotten

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 27, 2008 2:26 PM

Mike Burris was still wiping tears from his eyes as he approached the lectern on a Wayne Community College stage Monday morning.

"Excuse me," he said. "Let me get myself together here."

But for those seated inside Moffat Auditorium, there was no need for an apology.

You see, Burris was not the only grown man brought to tears by the Memorial Day address 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Steve Kwast had just given.

In fact, while most of the veterans on hand sat up a little straighter when the colonel took the stage -- chests out, chins held high, eyes forward -- their heads were hanging by the time a slide show of military funerals faded out to the sound of country songs about young soldiers cut down in their prime.

"Simply awesome," Burris said. "That really was something, Colonel."

Nearly 100 people attended this year's Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition-sponsored Memorial Day service.

Some were there to hear Kwast speak.

Others just wanted some support as they said silent prayers during the playing of "taps" or Holly Jones' rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

But most were there to honor friends and loved ones who never made it home.

Still, Kwast said simply remembering is "not enough."

"If we were to ask those who are looking down on us from above right now ... I would humbly suggest that they would say, 'Remember and act,'" he said. "And for Americans, that is not always as easy as it seems. ... Americans have a weakness. The American culture of fast-food, the tendency toward a fast bill, a quick fix, the weakness there is that sometimes, we forget too quickly, as the pace of life races by."

Gail Hargrove won't forget.

Her husband, Joseph, was lost in Cambodia more than 30 years ago.

Retired Marine Bill Carr thinks about the friends he left behind in Vietnam every day.

And former sailor and Goldsboro resident, Dreamweaver, lost two cousins to war.

In fact, everybody in attendance probably had their own story, Kwast said.

"Every man or woman who has died in service of their country has left someone behind -- a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a son or daughter -- who grieves to this day their loss," he said. "We are all interconnected in this way ... and that, right there, is an example of why it is so important to be here."

And we are all interconnected in another way, he added.

We are all in danger of losing the freedoms those men and women died defending if we don't act.

"This world is full of people who will take that freedom and liberty away if you let. Anything worthwhile in this life must be defended," he said. "So how do we act? How do we truly honor these men and women who gave their lives, to make sure they did not give them in vain?" he said. "It is not enough to just remember. It is not enough to pray for and acknowledge in your heart those who gave their life. The only way we can ensure they did not die in vain is by acting -- acting in whatever way we can to promote a future that is secure and safe for our