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COMMENTARY: A Memorial Day message from the Park Rapids DAV

President John F. Kennedy, a Navy veteran of World War II, once said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

The 35th President of the U.S. charged us to take our appreciation a step further with action. There is no more relevant time to embrace this quote than on Memorial Day. We can thank and remember those who served today and also honor them in the way we live the rest of the year.

On every last Monday in May, we find ourselves reflecting on these men and women who so bravely risked life and limb in the face of grave danger. We remember those who left the comforts of home to fight for us and our freedom, but never returned.

While service members and their families understand and accept the risks they take by serving our great nation, nothing can fully prepare a survivor for that knock on the door.

The military profession is inherently dangerous work. Just last month, three aviation crashes in three different states resulted in seven fatalities: four Marines, two soldiers and an Air Force Thunderbird pilot. This is a tragic loss and we honor the following lives cut short in service: Capt. Samuel Schultz; 1st Lt. Samuel Phillips; Gunnery Sgt. Richard Holley; Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Connolly; Warrant Officer James Casadona; and Maj. Stephen Del Bagno.

We must ensure these individuals are never forgotten, and that their actions stay alive in our memories — and in our hearts. This is important for honoring the heroes of today — and the veterans of years gone by who paved the way for them, including the men and women who died during the Vietnam War.

Nearly 60,000 names line the Vietnam Wall in Washington, which remains a striking visual of the cost of war. One of those names belongs to Lt. Col. Annie Ruth Graham, who served in the Army in World War II, Korea, and as the chief nurse at the 91st Evacuation Hospital in Tuy Hoa, Vietnam. She was 52 years old when she died after being evacuated to Japan. She was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Pfc. James Anderson, Jr. became the first African-American U.S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor in 1967. He received the honor posthumously after intentionally grabbing a grenade and absorbing the blast in order to save his comrades.

Another name on the Wall is Sgt. Robert G. Davison. He joined the Marine Corps at age 14. He had four years of service in the military when he was shipped to Vietnam. He was killed in action on Dec. 17, 1966 — one day before his 19th birthday.

Brothers David and Norman Evans were both killed in Vietnam. David was 19 years old when he died on Oct. 24, 1968. Norman died just over two years later on Nov. 24, 1970 at age 23. The brothers, who both served in the Army, died in separate helicopter crashes. Norman's body was never recovered.

And here in Hubbard county, we remember individuals like Park Rapids natives Navy Hospital Corpsman James W. Ashby, killed in action June 1, 1967 at age 23; Army Specialist Donald C. Green, who died on May 31, 1966 at age 27; Marine Corps Corporal Gary L. Rehn, who, at age 20, was killed in action on Nov. 9, 1967; and Army Specialist Vincent L. Shepersky, killed in action on Aug. 14, 1969, also only 20 years old.

Nevis native and Air Force Capt. Roland R. Obenland was killed in a plane crash on May 18, 1968, at age 32; and Menahga native and Army Specialist Larry C. Koski was killed in action on Feb. 26, 2018, at age 22.

Park Rapids DAV Chapter 38 would humbly ask you to accept President Kennedy's charge today and keep the fallen in your minds and their families and friends in your hearts — for it is their immense collective sacrifices that have helped keep our country safe and free. As long as we continue to honor veterans with our actions and remember their sacrifices, they will never be forgotten.