While the flowery wreaths behind her honored those that died in war, Dwaina Young was handed honors for a man who lived to come home and raise children but was never recognized.
At a Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans of All Wars Monument in Augusta, Mrs. Young accepted posthumously her father's two Bronze Star Medals, his Purple Heart, and other medals and ribbons from his service in World War II. As she wiped away tears, she smiled and looked upward, pointing at the sky and her father, Staff Sgt. Donnie A. Smith.
"I think he's proud that this can be brought to a closure," Mrs. Young said. She doesn't know why her father never got his medals, only that he never talked about his combat experience in the European Theater.
"He just always said if you had been there and seen battle, you didn't brag about it," she said. And it's not unusual to see after a war that some people don't pursue honors and medals, said U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., who finally got the honors and bestowed them on the family at the ceremony.
"They're just so grateful to be alive and so anxious to get home," Dr. Norwood said.
But then as Mr. Smith battled terminal cancer for 19 months, he began to wish for the medals to give to her, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He died in December 1995 before he got his wish, Mrs. Young said.
Now clutching the plaques and surrounded by some of those great-grandchildren, Brittani and William Keith Apple, Mrs. Young knew what her father would want her to do.
"I'm going to take them home and show them to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and then put them in a cabinet and cherish them," she said.
The posthumous medals brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd, and served as a reminder for some that the survivors of World War II are now joining their comrades who didn't make it.
"There aren't but a few of us here," said Jesse Mayes, 75, of Augusta as he sat on a folding chair in the shade alongside ex-prisoner of war Henry L. Harrison, 78, of Augusta. "There aren't too many World War II veterans anywhere."
After his B-17 Flying Fortress bomber was forced down in the Bavarian Alps, Mr. Harrison spent 300 days in Stalag Luft 1, a prison camp for flyers, before being liberated on May 1, 1945. He was shocked recently when his grandson came to him and said, "Tell me about World War II," because he wasn't learning it in school. Mr. Harrison has also watched sadly as the number of ex-POWs from World War II has dwindled from 95,000 just after the war to about 55,000 now.
"That's a third of us gone," he said. "I imagine time will take care of more of us in the next few years."
Time has not swept away the memories of those like Carl Pagano, who visits the Vietnam War memorial at Wade Hampton Veterans Park in North Augusta at least once a week to pray.
"Every day is Memorial Day to me," the Vietnam veteran said.
He was among a crowd of about 200 people who gathered at the park on Georgia Avenue to honor the men and women who gave their lives in defense of their country.
"War is the worst inflation ever visited upon humanity, for it reflects the high cost of freedom," said Rudy Harris, commander of the Jesse C. Lynch Memorial Post 71 of the American Legion.
Those who gathered under the tall trees in Wade Hampton park were doing their duty by remembering.
"If we forget those who have died, we forget part of ourselves and we lose part of ourselves as a people," said Rev. Andrew Menger, the son of James C. Bush Sr, one of the founders of Post 71.
For many on Monday, the ceremony awakened old emotions that only the crack of rifle shot and bugle call could give voice to. Vietnam veteran Robert Little's smart salute never wavered as the sharp volleys rang out from the honor guard. But as the long, lonely notes of "Taps" floated over the crowd, his cheek turned shiny, though his hand never strayed to wipe away the tears. Asked if he had lost a lot of friends in Vietnam, he merely swallowed and nodded.
Their names went unspoken, but not forgotten.
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