For members of the armed services and their extended families, especially those who have felt the sting of, or live with, the scars of war, Memorial Day isn’t just another day for hot dogs, hamburgers, and cold beer. It’s a day to pay homage to the brave men and women who fought and died so the rest of us could bear the freedoms safeguarded by their sacrifices.
In a Memorial-Day Vigil held in the Albany campus courtyard Thursday, May 20, from noon to 12:30 p.m., the student body and surrounding community was given the privilege to hear from LBCC's Veterans Club, as they shared what Memorial Day means to them.
The atmosphere was somber, with 50 plus in attendance. The crowd varied in age and demographic. Sandwich boards were spread throughout the courtyard displaying death rates from various wars that the U.S. has been involved in. All branches of the military were represented with flags hanging from the second story balcony. Current and past service members, some in uniform, were among the spectators.
Many students could be seen listening in awe from the second floor balcony as instructor Lewis Franklin, retired first sergeant Iraq War Veteran and club advisor, began to speak. He pulled two coins out of his pocket, each representing a tour of duty that he served in Iraq.
Lewis Franklin, addresses the Memorial Day Vigil crowd.
On his second tour, his unit was lucky enough not to sustain any casualties. His inaugural tour wasn’t as fortunate. Attached to a unit out of Corvallis, Franklin lost four fellow soldiers, three of whom he knew personally. Two died in the same IED attack. With tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, Franklin had to pause for a moment. As he mustered the courage to continue speaking, numerous members of the audience were crying and sharing his pain.
As he continued his story, the crowd’s anguish and empathy was only amplified as Franklin revealed that one of the young men who died in the IED attack was two weeks away from going home to his fiancee.
Franklin’s brother, a retired Major and veteran of the Gulf War and Hungary, James Franklin, also donned the podium.
“What does Memorial Day mean to me? Washington, Chamberlain…these are names that inspired us to fight for our country.”
James continued to express why soldiers/heroes do what they do.
“Country, honor, God...they do it in hopes that younger generations don’t have to face the terror of the world, or current battlefield.”
Veterans Club President Steven Olson, an Afghanistan combat war veteran, addressed the Battlefield Cross displayed in the courtyard. An American flag standing to the left and a POW flag to the right, the cross is made up of a soldier's rifle inserted bayonet first into combat boots with a helmet on top. Three dog tags hang around the rifle, each representing fallen comrades.
“They’re not here with me anymore, they’re in my heart.” Olson later added, “If my brothers were here with me, we’d be celebrating, having a barbecue.”
After each speaker finished, the audience was given a chance to say what Memorial Day means to them. With his wife and two kids present, former club President Mica Smith jumped at the chance to say that, to him, the day is a chance for “family and freedom to assemble, to honor those who served.”
Before Smith concluded he asked that while spectators are barbecuing, camping, or enjoying a cold one over the holiday weekend to “raise a glass to the ones who never came home.”
Following Smith, Chris Wenger took to the microphone with passion. Her son is LBCC artist Shane Kohfield. Kohfield served two tours of duty in Iraq and is on disability from the VA for a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD. Wenger and Kohfield just happened to be on campus, and had no idea the vigil was being held. She spoke about veterans still suffering at home.
“The cost of war is great. The war never ends for some of them. They come home, but it doesn’t stop.”
Wenger ended by thanking all veterans.
The ceremony came to a close with the Albany American Legion Post 10 Color Guard taking down the American flag as taps played in the background.
Following the vigil, Wenger had one more thing to say.
“I about cried when I saw the boots and the gun and the dog tags. My god…I had no idea I was going to get up and speak, but I don’t want people to forget. I don’t want them to ever forget.”
Albany American Legion Post 10 Color Guard member, Robert Sechrest,
prepares to take down the flag.
At A Glance
Who: LBCC Veterans Club
What: Memorial Day Vigil
Where: Albany campus courtyard
When: May 20, from noon to 12:30 p.m.