Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day: The uncle I never knew

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on our military men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting our country. For my family, that includes an uncle who was killed in the closing days of World War II, an uncle I never knew, my mother's older brother.

Mom was a student at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Virginia, when her brother Clarence, the oldest of nine siblings, died. She still remembers her mother's reaction that fateful day when the official government car drove up the driveway of their farm many decades ago, and how her mother's knees buckled as she realized the presence of that car meant her son had been killed. Mom says her mother, who lived into her 80s, never completely got over the loss.

After retiring, my mother spent hours researching to discover what exactly happened to her brother and eventually found Clarence's lieutenant living in Texas. She traveled there to talk with him and hear about her brother's final hours, something she documented for our family.

In 2012, Mom wrote:
My brother, Clarence, would be 94 years old August 1st ... and it has now been a little more than 67 years since he was killed in Germany during World War II, only six weeks before Germany surrendered and the war in Europe ended.

Clarence was a 'foot soldier' and had fought for 15 months, from southern Italy to the liberation of Rome, then from the Riviera of Southern France all the way up to Germany's Siegfried Line, liberating the people of those two countries who had been prisoners of the Germans for several years.

Clarence was killed as they were crossing through the Siegfried Line from France into Germany. I think of him often and think about the fact that if we had not won World War II, there would no longer be a United States of America because Germany would have taken control of our country and our lives.
There was nothing romantic or glorious about how he died. His unit had encountered the almost impossible difficulties of fighting in mud, the freezing conditions of snow and ice. There was no time to mourn when a buddy died ... they had to move on, and returned later to recover their dead.

His name is carved into the granite walls of the Virginia War Memorial that overlooks downtown Richmond and the James River. Today we remember his sacrifice along with that of other fallen heroes who have fought for our country ... another reminder that freedom is not free.

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