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South End community gathers to pay tribute

CLINTON — Brothers and sisters, fathers and sons walked between the rows of graves in the Clinton Cemetery, many marked with small American flags.

Earlier, Navy Lt. j.g. Andrew Brown had followed those same steps.

Brown, a member of Patrol Squadron One at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the guest speaker at Monday’s annual Memorial Day service, said he was struck by the sight of headstones in the cemetery that marked each branch of service.

Brown recalled seeing the graves of many Marines, airmen, sailors and soldiers. It reminded him of the current fight against terrorism, and the ongoing war in Iraq that has drawn fighters from all branches of America’s military.

“It makes me very proud. It’s a team game; we really play together,” Brown said.

“We try to do the best we can, because we face a very determined enemy who is good at what they do. And they would do anything they could to thwart the things that we value. It’s hard for us to understand that. It’s hard for me to understand, how could anyone be against the great things that America stands for, but it’s true.”

More than 3,450 U.S service members have died in Iraq since the start of the war. And since the American Revolution, more than 653,000 Americans have died in battle. The country has more than 17 million veterans of war, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brown, who will make his first deployment overseas in November with his squadron, said he was grateful for the support Whidbey shows its men and women in uniform.

“It’s pretty humbling,” said the Arkansas native. “To be able to know that when you’re in harm’s way, that the people back home are supporting you, you really don’t know how much that’s worth to feel that support.”

A crowd of nearly 100 gathered for the Memorial Day service in Clinton; Islanders also gathered at cemeteries in Bayview, Coupeville and Oak Harbor to honor those who died while serving their country.

In Clinton, Pastor Mikkel Hustad of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church began the program with a blessing.

“Bless our leaders and the people in our efforts to make this land happy and prosperous for all. Help us to discipline ourselves so that our national freedom may be used for common good,” Hustad said.

“We give you thanks for those who have gone before and served this nation so admirably. Lift up leaders, today and in the future, to serve, guide and protect this land,” he said.

The Daughters of the American Revolution choir performed patriotic standards such as “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” “An Honor To Serve” and “God Bless America.”

Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution then read passages from “The Infantryman”:

“He has learned to use his hands like weapons and his weapon like a hand. He can save your life or take it, because that is his job...He has seen more suffering and death than he should in his short lifetime. He has stood atop the mountains of dead bodies, and helped create them.

“He has wept in private and in public for his friends who have fallen in combat, and is unashamed. Just as his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom.”

Words could not adequately address the service and sacrifice that our men and women have made in the past and are making now around the world, Brown told the crowd, which included veterans from World War II as well as more recent conflicts.

Brown recalled the words of President John F. Kennedy’s address at Amherst College, a month before he died in 1963: “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

“I thought that’s a great quote for Memorial Day, because here we measure our country by the students, and the athletes, and the soldiers we produce, but we should also make time to remember the ones that have gone before.

“We really are only standing on their shoulders. An the blessings that we have today in our great country weren’t really paid for by the new guys,” Brown said.

Roy Simmons closed the memorial by reading the names of departed veterans who had served and sacrificed; 54 names from George Allen to Hank Wrightsman.

Heads bowed as the silence was broken by the playing of “Taps” by Will Mellish of Boy Scout Troop 57.

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