Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification, which will appear in Wednesday's print edition. Several Bulloch County-area Boy Scout troops, including troops 342 and 935, along with scout leader Lovett Bennett Jr. and other volunteers, placed more than 600 American flags on graves of fallen soldiers from Bulloch County who lost lives during war time. Their actions were praised during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony held at the Averitt Center for the Arts, but the troops were not identified during the program, as reported in a front-page article in Tuesday's edition.
With deep emotion, a Korean War veteran reminded people attending Monday’s Memorial Day service about the true reasons for the observance.
The day has become just another three-day weekend to many, but Carl E. Ledbetter Sr. said he won’t ever forget the young men, his friends, who gave their lives during the “forgotten war,” the Korean War, as he addressed the crowd at Averitt Center for the Arts' Emma Kelly Theater Monday morning.
His son, Statesboro Herald Assistant Editor Eddie Ledbetter, introduced him as the keynote speaker for the annual event. Monday was the 10th year the Memorial Day program has been held at Averitt Arts Center, which also celebrates its 10 anniversary this year, Director Tim Chapman said.
Ledbetter said the Korean War is often called “the forgotten war,” as it followed so closely on the heels of World War II and only lasted from 1950 to 1953. But, “I remember it,” he said, “Oh, do I remember it.”
The memories were obviously mostly unpleasant. Ledbetter spoke of the horrors he saw on the streets of Seoul – people dying of starvation and doing just about anything to survive. When he was offered the chance to volunteer for battle, he did so, hoping to escape the sight of “so many innocent people suffering so terribly.”
But Memorial Day is not just about the Korean War, he said.
“Patriotism is important, but I think the spirit of this holiday cuts even deeper than that,” he said.
Ledbetter spoke of the origin of Memorial Day, once known as “Decoration Day” when, after the Civil War, it was a custom to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. The holiday came to be a day when veterans of all wars who gave their lives were honored.
But when the government created the official holiday in the early 1970s, purposefully selecting several holidays to be celebrated on Mondays, thereby creating three-day holiday weekends, it took something away from the meaning of Memorial Day, he said.
“Who decorates graves or takes time to think about” the reasons for the holiday anymore, he asked. The holiday has become “a three-day weekend, a time for fun, a time for recreation.”
Except for some, he said.
Many citizens still observe the day as it was meant to be observed, and “the spirit of this day does indeed run deeper.”
Ledbetter’s voice trembled with emotion as he listed the names and ages of several people he knew as a young man — at least three of whom were barely 17 — who died during wartime. After calling their names, listing their young ages and talking about their shortened lives, the outrage over the existence and reasons for war was apparent in his voice, even more than 60 years later.
“Forget the Korean War? How dare you forget the young men who died!” he said. “Even though grass has been growing over their graves for over 60 years, I will not forget … heroes everywhere who gave their lives for freedom.”
Ledbetter’s speech was preceded by short presentations from several local veterans, some of whom intoned the names of Bulloch County citizens who lost lives in war.
Daniel Foglio, senior vice commander of Dexter Allen American Legion Post 90, which hosts the event, served as master of ceremonies. Several local dignitaries, including Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore, Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch, Sen. Jack Hill and retired judge William J. Neville spoke briefly during the event.
Music was provided by Dr. Michael Braz, and Foglio gave special thanks to Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home, Lovett Bennett Jr. and his local Boy Scout troop. Several Bulloch County-area Boy Scout troops, including troops 342 and 935, along with Bennett and other volunteers, placed more than 600 American flags on graves of fallen soldiers from Bulloch County who lost lives during war time. .
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.