- Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Memorial Day weekend is the kick off to summer, the end of the school year and as many of these long weekend “holidays,” a time to be with family. I am certainly looking forward to seeing my own kids, grandkids and getting in some “Nanny” time.

I relish these special times more than ever since having had the privilege of working with Wreaths Across America and becoming close friends with many Gold Star families. They too will gather Monday with their families, but they will be missing a loved one. Loved ones we collectively pause to honor on this day. Loved ones missing from their lives forever.

It is that loss and sacrifice that fuels the need to differentiate between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

A few years ago, I had the honor of meeting and becoming dear friends with Edith Knowles. Edith, who was well into her 80s at the time, had spent her life keeping the memory of her brother Cpl. Horace Marvin “Bud” Thorne alive. Edith and her brother were part of a big family that lived on a farm in New Jersey during WWII. When Edith was 13, her brother boarded a ship with so many others and soon found himself in the throes of the Battle of the Bulge. The family prayed he would come home safely and treasured any word from overseas. His last letter home was full of his longing to be home with his family for Christmas. This was not to be.

Thorne died Dec. 21, 1944.

“Bud,” as Edith always referred to him, was to become a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. His heroism is honored with monuments and a school named in his honor.

As a supporter of the Survivors of the Battle of the Bulge and a Board Member for Wreaths Across America, Edith visited schools and communities talking about her brother and others like him, and would read his last letter to anyone who would listen.

On her last trip to Arlington National Cemetery before she died in 2015, Edith brought along a life-size cutout of her brother so children in schools and people who gathered could “meet” him. She addressed him directly with a raw emotion that hadn’t been dampened by the 70 years that had passed since his death. He was her hero.

Heroism of men like “Bud” Thorne affords all of us our freedom. In that way he and those who serve impact all of our lives. The loss of his life altered Edith and her family’s lives forever.

President George W. Bush spoke of this in his May 27, 2002, Memorial Day speech in France at the Normandy American Cemetery, home of the graves of 9,387 Americans killed in World War II. The cemetery sits near the beaches of Normandy, from which U.S. troops launched the June 1944 D-Day invasion.

“All that come to a place like this feel the enormity of the loss,” the president said. “Yet for so many there’s a marker that seems to sit alone. They come looking for that one cross, that one Star of David, that one name. Behind every grave of a fallen soldier is a story of the grief that came to a wife, a mother, a child, a family or a town. A World War II orphan has described her family’s life after her father was killed on the field in Germany. ‘My mother,’ she said, ‘had lost everything she was waiting for. She lost her dreams.’

“There were an awful lot of perfect linen tablecloths in the house that never got used — so many things being saved for a future that was never to be.

“Each person buried here understood his duty but also dreamed of going back home to the people and the things he knew. Each had plans and hopes of his own that parted with him forever when he died.

“The day will come when no one is left who knew them, when no visitor to this cemetery can stand before a grave remembering a face and a voice. The day will never come when America forgets them. Our nation and the world will always remember what they did here and what they gave here for the future of humanity.”

This is why it is so important to remember not the deaths of these men but the lives they laid down so we could live in a free America. Today, as we look towards Memorial Day, I remember Edith’s closing words each time she shared Bud’s story, “My brother never got to be a veteran.”

We honor all who serve. Today we remember those who never had the opportunity to become veterans.

Remember, Honor, Teach.

Karen Worcester is executive director and volunteer with Wreaths Across America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992. The organization’s mission — Remember, Honor, Teach — is carried out in part each year by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies in December at Arlington, as well as at more than 1,600 participating veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and overseas. For more information or to sponsor a wreath please visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

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