Although an exact statistic is hard to nail down, the Congressional Research Service estimates that over 1 million Americans have died in the service of the United States during the nation’s nearly 250-year history.
With families preparing for picnics and the unofficial start of the summer season, a group of West Virginians met at Fayetteville’s Huse Memorial Park and Mausoleum to remember the nation’s lost for Memorial Day.
West Virginia, particularly southern West Virginia, has often sent an excessive number of its citizens to war with totals from the world’s greatest conflict showing a disproportionate amount of sacrifice coming from Fayette County in particular.
According to war records from the National Archives, 223 young Americans from Fayette County made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.
Eighty-eight soldiers, sailors and Marines from Greenbrier County lost their lives in that same conflict, 44 from Monroe County, 58 from Nicholas County, 200 from Raleigh County, 53 from Summers County and 74 from Wyoming County.
Looking around the cemetery, Fayetteville Mayor Dennis Hanson noted the numbers of veterans buried in the park.
Noting the nature of the day to remember those who perished in war, Hanson told the audience that in the solemn moment they must attempt to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“As you think about the evening, and you think about the future, take a little time sometime and just remember those that have served the country and given it all,” the mayor said.
The vigil’s keynote speaker, Col. Chris Selvey (U.S. Army-Retired), gave the audience a brief history of the event.
A veteran of deployments to Iraq and later to the Balkans, Selvey called those trips overseas eye-opening experiences, saying the loss that soldiers feel when a comrade dies is much more intense than deaths by natural causes.
“This day I know is a very difficult day for many wives, many husbands, especially mothers and fathers, sons and daughters,” Selvey said. “This day can be a day of bringing back sadness and pain that was caused by the loss of this loved one for their country.”
The Army veteran spoke on the difficulty of putting into perspective what is lost when a service member makes the ultimate sacrifice.
What Selvey could put into perspective was the fact that Memorial Day has gotten away from its intended purpose.
“This day is much more than a day of barbecuing, boating and swimming,” the Army veteran said. “It’s much more than a day off of work that marks the unofficial start of summer in most people’s eyes.”
Selvey said the day is about expressing your feelings about those who died and service and doing your best to remember their sacrifice.
“Everything that we hold precious in this country was made possible from the generations and generations of Americans who gave it their all,” Selvey said.
To mark his own remembrance, the Army veteran read the names of those he knew or was connected to who made the ultimate sacrifice, finishing with a quote from an unknown author.
“Our country’s flag does not fly because the wind moves it,” Selvey read. “It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.”
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