Memorial Day is a time set aside each year for Americans to remember those men and women who served their country and gave the ultimate price for our freedom, their lives.
R.D. Edwards, a retired Quincy police chief and Army veteran of World War Two’s Pacific Campaign had the privilege of visiting Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago as part of the Honor Flight Tallahassee organization to see the memorials that have been built to honor our fallen heroes.
He made the trip with his grandson McLane Edwards who he had chosen as his guardian. Each veteran had to be accompanied by someone. There also were EMTs and a doctor along for the trip.
Among the vets on the flight were men as old as 96. An old friend of Edwards’, Willie Booth, a former Clearwater police chief whom he’d known for years, was also there.
Edwards knows all too well about those sacrifices having spent time in combat in the Philippines. Some of those men in the Army’s 41st Infantry in which he served did not get to come back home, raise a family and enjoy their grandchildren and great-grandchildren as he has.
He was stationed in Kobe, Japan after the war ended (September 6, 1945) with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki (August 6, 1945) and Hiroshima (August 9, 1945).
Prior to that he had been training for the invasion of the mainland of Japan where American casualties were predicted to be anywhere from 1.2 million dead and wounded up to as many as 4 million casualties. Potential Japanese losses were estimated between 5-10 million.
Allies had lost over 65,000 in Okinawa’s 82-day battle leading up to the planned invasion.
While in Kobe, Edwards said he had gone to Hiroshima and seen the destruction.
He described the former city as having been flattened with hardly anything left standing, similar to a recent tornado in Oklahoma.
About Memorial Day, Edwards said people should think about it and realize that today there are still young men and women not coming home.
There were soldiers, he said, that were shipping out when they flew up to Washington, D.C. that lined up for those on the Honor Flight as they came into the airport.
Edwards added that he was concerned about his country.
McLane said that his grandfather’s comment about his concerns were a recurring theme among all of the veterans on the trip.
Those concerns coming from men whose commitment to their country at a time when the world was at war, McLane thought, was poignant.
“If it had not been for people like my grandfather,” he said, “we would be speaking Japanese or German.”
The group toured the World War Two Memorial, Arlington Cemetery with the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean Memorial and several others.
The elder Edwards said that it had been the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that he found to be the most touching.
Unknown American soldiers from World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War (this individual was later identified and the tomb is empty) are buried at the tomb.
The tomb is guarded 24 hours per day, 365 days per year by specially trained members of the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard). The guards change every hour, October 1st to March 31, and every half hour April 1 to September 30.
The mood was somber on the way back to Tallahassee, Edwards said, but about 30 minutes into the flight things changed.
To their surprise they had “mail call.”
R.D. Edwards with his grandson McLane Edwards, who went with him on the Honor Flight.
Each member of the honor flight received mail from friends and family.
Edwards said mail call was something all the soldiers looked forward to when they were in the Pacific.
“I spent the rest of the flight reading my mail,” Edwards said with a smile.
It was a sentimental end to a day of memories and a trip that will not be soon forgotten.