Heralding the beginning of summer, Memorial Day for some may be thought of as a day for celebrating the freedom from school at the end of the school year or, for those lucky enough, a day’s freedom from work.
However, the day was initially created after the American Civil War as Decoration Day, when families and citizens would decorate the graves and remember those who had fallen in the line of duty. Monday, veterans, active duty military, Boy Scouts and others marked the resting places of soldiers with flags and wreaths.
LaGrange veterans and their families gathered Monday at Shadowlawn Cemetery to remember those who gave their lives to preserve the country’s freedoms. Organized by the West Georgia Veterans Council, Monday’s Memorial Day service featured retired Maj. Gen. Donald J. Harlin.
After an invocation by the Rev. Dalton Hammock, assistant national chaplain for the Marine Corps League, Harlin was introduced by John West.
Harlin is a decorated U.S. Air Force chaplain. After 30 years of service in the Air Force, serving in Vietnam, Okinawa and Korea, Harlin retired and served as a Baptist pastor. Moving to LaGrange a few years ago, he has become a local fixture in his Stetson hat and cowboy boots. Legally blind, he is always accompanied by his guide dog, Valerie, of whom he remarked, “she cannot hold her ‘licker.’”
For this occasion, however, Harlin wore his uniform. He said, “I almost talked myself out of wearing my uniform. It’s a hassle taking the ribbons off my pajamas.”
Maj. Gen. Harlin spoke on the theme, “They died for this,” laying out the three things that American service men and women died to preserve: “The greatness of America, the goodness of America and the godliness of America.”
Quoting the French philosopher and historian Alexis de Tocqueville, “America is great because America is good,” Harlin suggested that the country’s beginnings were divinely inspired with figures such as George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson living contemporaneously. He continued by asking, “Who has a bigger heart than America?” and reminding those gathered that America always responds with goodness when crises happen domestically or overseas.
“We are not perfect, but we’re good, damn good,” he said.
While he stated that godliness is a far more complicated matter, he urged the crowd to fight to maintain faith and morality as part of the American public landscape.
Harlin ended by citing the sacrifice of Pfc. Edward Gomez, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. During action in Korea in 1951, Gomez threw himself on a grenade that landed near his squad and took the brunt of the grenade’s blast, saving the lives of the remainder of his squad.
Among his personal effects was a letter to his mother, which read: “I am very proud to have done what little I have done. Be proud of me, mom, because even though I’m scared now, I know what I’m doing is worth it. Tell Dad I died like a man he wanted me to be. The kids, remind them of me once in awhile and never forget, kids, fight only for what you believe in—that’s what I’m fighting for.”
Following Harlin’s remarks, a wreath was laid and Emory Drinkard of the Marine Corps League played “Taps.”