05/31/11 — Tribute to heroes

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Tribute to heroes

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 31, 2011 1:46 PM

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4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doherty delivers the keynote address at Monday's ceremony.

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Marine veterans Peter Garrison and David Williams salute while taps is played during the Wayne County Memorial Day Ceremony held Monday at Wayne Community College.

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United States Army veteran Luby Hines salutes along with other veterans and people in attendance while the National Anthem is sung by Holly Jones during the Memorial Day ceremony.

His voice, at times, trembling, Patrick Doherty fought back tears as he unwrapped a boyhood memory for the 100-plus who turned out for a public vigil designed to honor those who have died for their country.

His father, he told the crowd, had taken him to a homecoming celebration for a group of young men who had just returned from Vietnam -- a gathering akin to those he has witnessed every few months since taking command of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's 4th Fighter Wing.

"But their arrivals at airports across the country weren't always that positive," the colonel said, choking up. "And I still get embarrassed today reflecting on that. Those were dark days ... indeed."

Maybe it was the fact that he and his wife had, moments before he took the stage, gotten to know a Gold Star Wife who lost her greatest love in Vietnam.

Or perhaps he sensed -- after watching dozens stand when those who served in that particular war were recognized -- just how many in attendance had witnessed, firsthand, what he characterized as "the ultimate sacrifice."

Either way, for a few moments Monday, Doherty let his guard down.

He was, quite simply, just another American in awe of those "heroes" who have laid down their lives for a cause far more significant than any military decoration, title or post.

The crowd was far smaller than it was last year when a record number of local residents turned out to commemorate Memorial Day at Wayne Community College, but the roughly 100 people in attendance would tell you that the annual Veterans and Patriots Coalition-hosted ceremony was just as powerful.

"It's not that surprising that the colonel broke down," said Melanie Yates, who showed up to honor her fallen uncle, Pete. "I think all of us shed our fair share of tears today."

For Billy Fuller, it was the image of a widow sprawled out across her husband's grave.

"Pictures that like should speak to all of us," he said. "That right there is sacrifice -- it's the kind of pain you can't put into words."

For Tanya Edmunson, it was the look on a young boy's face as an American flag was folded during a military funeral.

"He wasn't crying or nothing, and that's what got me," she said. "It was like he was too young to get what death means. The kids these heroes leave behind, they always break my heart."

And then there was Doherty who, as he wrapped up his remarks, seemed to be touched, quite simply, by the notion that men and women continue to volunteer to serve -- knowing all too well what sacrifices might be required to ensure the freedoms thousands have died defending never waiver.

"God bless them all," he said, his voice, again, trembling. "And God bless America."