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Lest we forget
Effingham County honors fallen veterans
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Lucas Hynes leads the singing of "God Bless America." - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

In light of the accusations of waiting lists and other problems at Veterans Administration hospitals and facilities across the country, state Sen. Jack Hill said the nation needs to make taking care of its veterans one of its top priorities.

Hill, speaking during Monday’s Memorial Day observance at Veterans Park, also implored the crowd to let candidates running for Congress know how upset they are over the treatment of former soldiers seeking care.

“It’s hard not to think about the sad state of affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the purported mistreatment of veterans,” he said. “The disturbing thing is it apparently takes revelations to generate action, to get issues resolved with delivering services to veterans in a timely way.”

Hill mentioned the tales of waiting lists at VA hospitals and said he’s heard stories of good care at VA facilities. Hill, a retired Air National Guard officer, said the nation needs to make sure it can care for its veterans before it extends promises of military help and commits its forces elsewhere around the globe.

He also called for the federal government to render no more aid to countries, eliminate government agencies holding conventions in exotic locales and stop paying bonuses to bureaucrats.

“In short, no spending should come before helping sick and wounded veterans,” Hill said. “I think the United States should not put any more troops in harm’s way anywhere in the world until this government can assure those serving today and those who have served that the promise of veterans care will be kept,” he said. “And further, the U.S. should not make any new commitments for military aid until we have committed the resources to make good on our promise to those who wear the uniform now, those who wore it yesterday and those who will wear it today.”

Hill also commended those who turned out to Veterans Park for the Memorial Day observance and wished the occasion meant more to others than the unofficial start of summer.

“It should be a solemn day, spent in solitude and reflection,” he said. “It’s become such a holiday that people leave town for the weekend, and it is just the beginning of summer. How sad and tragic it’s come to this.”

Evoking an adage of the Disabled American Veterans — “the best way to honor the dead is to serve those who lived but came home sick and wounded” — Hill said there are many people and organizations doing their best to remember past soldiers. He used as an example James Sapp, the 92-year-old Rincon resident who still fits in his World War II uniform and goes “anywhere he can find an audience to talk about service to country and the sacrifice so many have made.”

The Memorial Day observances, Hill said, demonstrate the Effingham community’s patriotism and dedication to the county’s service members.

“These observances take a lot of work and someone has to step forward. In some communities, no one does step forward,” he said. “This well-orchestrated, meaningful and inspirational service always reminds me of the hard work of leaders like Ruth Lee and Lamar Crosby and so many others have invested through the years to make sure the deceased soldiers from Effingham County are remembered.”

Crosby, a retired Army colonel, said Memorial Day brings to mind two of his soldiers, whose names are etched on the Vietnam War Memorial known as the Wall. Both were killed in action on April 11, 1969, as Crosby led his platoon against enemy forces in the Binh Duong province of South Vietnam. One was Larry Zapolski, “a wonderful soldier and a leader in his squad,” Crosby said, and the other was 2nd Lt. William L. Owen Jr., who had been in Vietnam less than a month and was training to take over a platoon of his own.

“Every year at this time, I think about those two guys and just say, ‘thanks for your service,’” Crosby said. “They did what was expected of them. They were soldiers. They served proudly. They gave their lives in service to their country so we could be here today.”

The names on the walls of Veterans Park, and the names embedded in the stone of those who never made it home from the conflict in which they served, are a testament to the community’s willingness to serve.

“Effingham County has always answered the call of its country,” Hill said. “Soldiers from this county have fought in every war, every conflict, as demonstrated by walls of names listed by service on these grounds. When the nation called, Effingham County sent its best to answer the call. Those who did not return are memorialized on this day for all of us to remember and recognize.”

Lee recalled the phrase “dying for freedom isn’t the worst that could happen — being forgotten is” when discussing why the Memorial Day ceremony has so much meaning.

“I would say to all of those who have laid down their life and even all of those who have fought for us,” she said, “that Effingham County does not forget.”