Day 11 – A Final Goodbye
Erin Stender, Sparkman High School, Alabama
Today began with an air of anxious excitement. This was it. We’d read novels of trials and triumphs, traveled thousands of miles, discovered weathered documents with their contents unaltered by time, heard personal accounts, collected information in order to prepare for the moment in which we would stand side by side with our fallen hero and tell their story.
The feeling one gets when entering the cemetery, a vast, ironic field of beauty and peace is impossible to understand, to describe…but I’ll try.
Imagine you’ve had this pen pal. You write them on a regular basis and vice versa. You become close, you know every detail about them. You know that one day you will meet them and anxiously await that day. But when you do meet, you must give a speech— you must share all you know about your friend. You must speak of the highs and the lows. The moments for which you love them, for which you are proud. Add an ache for the silence you will receive in return and an unexpected feeling of loss. Imagine that and you might have a slim chance of understanding how it feels to touch the grave of your Silent Hero.
Some students chose soldiers who never made it to rest with their brothers. At the wall of the missing, two students honored their Silent Heroes and a teacher, Mrs. Nichole Flynn, sang a verse of the Navy Hymm “Eternal Father.” As her voice reverberated throughout the wall of the missing, a surreal moment of “This happened. This happened to people.” washed over us.
After honoring our heroes, we were given time in the cemetery to pay our last respects. Immediately, my teacher and I went back to see Mac, my Silent Hero. After a few minutes, she went to see all of the cemetery.
Sitting there, alone, the atmosphere was almost mockingly peaceful. The stillness of the air made time seem stagnant. It was as if he was there, as if our times— both his and mine— stood not so far apart after all. As I sat there next next to him, listening to the birds in the trees and bells in the distance, I shed tears for a man whose name had been overlooked by history. A man of true bravery, one of many who— 71 years after his death— is still influencing the world around him. If that isn’t noteworthy, I don’t know what is.
For lunch we traveled to an airy hill overlooking the deceptive calm of both Utah and Omaha beaches. We ate sandwiches, joking and chatting like always, but this time it was with an unspoken heaviness in our hearts. It was as if we had just watched these men— our soldiers— die all over again.
The entire experience was undeniably full of sorrow, but it also held a sense of reassurance in it, a sense of healing. And maybe—just maybe— our heroes felt that, too. And now feel that they are no longer defined by how they died, but by how they lived.
WE REMEMBER. Rest in Peace:
Captain Malcolm A. Smith, US Army Air Forces
Cook Second Class Francisco N. F. Blas, US Navy
Flight Officer Edmund L. Decker, US Army Air Forces
Private First Class John F. Garrard, US Army
Staff Sergeant Eugene J. Mlot, US Army Air Forces
First Lieutenant Robert Raymond Martee, US Army
Private Benjamin Franklin McKenney, US Army
Private John J. O’Callahan, US Army
Radioman Second Class Julius H. O. Pieper, US Navy
Radioman Second Class Ludwig J. W. Pieper, US Navy
Sergeant Pierre L. Robinson, US Army
Second Lieutenant Harlan E. Rugg, US Army
Technician Fifth Class Broadway Sims, US Army
Corporal Henry B. Van Hyfte, US Army
Private William Verderamo, US Army
Private First Class Frank E. Wyatt, US Army