Service in life, battle worth honoring

Published 10:27 am Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This past Sunday I witnessed the Memorial Day service at the cemetery in Boykins where, I observed, there didn’t seem to be as many people attending as the year before. Nor was I alone in that observation. Another resident voiced what I and probably many other people were also thinking.

Was it because of the weather? Not really. The day was sunny and warm…OK, it was hot. But not so bad that your cranium would melt within a minute of walking away from an air conditioner. In fact, there was a breeze and plenty of shade appropriate to the setting.

I couldn’t imagine the choice of speaker would be a factor in keeping people away. Last year, Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va.) did the honors of commenting on the occasion. This time, Pastor James Young of Berean Baptist Church was invited, and related his experiences as a Marine and the pride he shares in being an American.

Whatever the reasons for a lower attendance, the fact remains that such services are an important part of American culture.

In a way, Young said all things I wanted to write about the occasion, only better. So much so that I asked for a copy of his speech, which is printed in full starting on this page. Most of you will likely agree with the tone and truth of the words.

One of the things he said that pricked up my ears was his recital of John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Field,” composed during World War I. As Young spoke the lines, I found myself mouthing the words from memory. The piece is familiar to me because I once learned, memorized and then recited the poem in seventh grade. In fact, all my other classmates at Alice Drive Junior High School had to do the same, courtesy of our English teacher, Mr. Claude Warr Jr.

Reading and learning the piece was not really a problem, but standing in front of other people and reciting was another story. I dimly recall being able do so for a passing grade, though. But afterward the poem went right out of my memory for decades until this past weekend.

In addition to remembering McCrae’s piece on Sunday, I also instantly recalled the teacher. In my proverbial mind’s eye, I can still see him and almost even hear his voice. Though as I am writing this column, my research online has showed my memory was not complete. I confused his first name with that of his son, who was also in the same English class.

In reading Mr. Warr’s obituary — you saw that coming, didn’t you? — I discovered that he did far more than require poetry recitals by mostly lazy and indifferent students. For example, he learned to read and write Braille, and taught that to blind students after school.

How about that?

That’s a fine example of how people are usually more than just their jobs, and that they often take their careers one step further than required.

So it is with the servicemen and women we salute — those we knew personally in life, as well those who are only remembered by a name, an obituary or an inscription carved on granite or marble.

Another example: Jordan Brown Weston, son of Wilson Weston, is buried at the aforementioned cemetery. Born in Hertford County, North Carolina June 26, 1831, he evidently served during the American Civil War, duly noted by a Confederate flag at his grave. Weston not only survived that struggle, but went on to become a father, also noted just at the grave line. He lived until Feb. 11, 1910.

By the ceremony, by the marker, by the flag and even by these words Weston and all other veterans are not forgotten.

Service in battle, service in life are always worth honoring. We should do more remembering.

STEPHEN H. COWLES is a staff writer at The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or