05/26/09 — A tribute to fallen heroes

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A tribute to fallen heroes

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 26, 2009 1:46 PM

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Gail Hargrove, left, and Congressman Walter Jones place a wreath onstage at the Memorial Day ceremony in the auditorium at Wayne Community College on Monday. Mrs Hargrove's husband, Joseph, was killed during the Vietnam War and his body never recovered. Jones called the nation's service men and women heroes and said the country should do more to help its veterans and honor those who died while protecting this country's freedom.

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Army and Air Force veteran George Carberry, left, and retired Navy veteran George Vrbetic, right, with Vrbetic's wife, Nellie, center, stand at attention during the posting of the colors at the Memorial Day ceremony.

One of the songs playing behind a Memorial Day slide show was written from the perspective of a fallen soldier, who said, "Don't cry for us. We made it to Arlington."

That didn't stop many of those gathered in the Wayne Community College auditorium from shedding tears as pictures of flag-draped caskets and military funerals scrolled across a large screen.

More than 100 Wayne County residents showed up Monday to formally honor those who died at war.

Gail Hargrove, whose husband, Joseph, was killed during Vietnam, was among them.

Joseph's remains still have not been recovered.

So fellow Marine Bill Carr took the time to apologize to her during a ceremony meant to honor all those who perished before their prime.

"In the Marines, we don't leave anybody behind. I don't know what happened there," Carr said. "So I would like to apologize on behalf of all the guys I served with."

Many of those who turned out for the event -- particularly the veterans -- are still grieving losses they witnessed in war theaters.

And U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, the event's keynote speaker, said he has met many young troops who just barely escaped death.

So they sat inside that auditorium for nearly two hours -- saying prayers, sharing stories, applauding those who have served and reciting emotional goodbyes they had said many times over since they were first uttered along battlefields from the jungle to the desert.

Jones' message -- that Americans and their government should always take care of its fighting force -- drew several standing ovations.

He talked about a particular Iraq veteran he met at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"We knew he was 19 years old. We knew he had been wounded, shot in the back of the neck, while serving in Iraq. When we walked in ... all I could think was this is a young man who is hurt. This is a young man who is confused," Jones said. "He's confused because he is 19. He'll never walk. He'll never run. ... We leaned over to say, 'Thank you. You're the hero.' ... Then as we stepped back, this young woman came in, the mother of the young man ... she said, I have one question for you men in Congress. Can you promise me that 40 years from now, this government will take care of my son. ... What we said was, 'This government should take care of your son.'"

And then he spoke to those veterans in the crowd.

"I have sworn to God, as long as I have the privilege to serve, I will never forget the veterans because of what they have done for this country. This country can never say, 'Thank you' enough," Jones said. "But this is a day of remembrance. It is our responsibility and obligation to remember those who gave the supreme sacrifice."

The ceremony concluded with the playing of taps by an airman from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and a few more tears were shed.

And for many who left the college moments later, those tears won't end with the holiday weekend.