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It's Been 12 Years, And I'll Still Never Forget...

Every Memorial Day, for the last 12 years, I dig up an old copy of a story I wrote on Memorial Day in 2009. It involves a young man I had never met, and who would forever be a total stranger to me.

He was a hero. A husband. A Dad. And an example of the true meaning of Memorial Day that I will never, ever, forget.

Here’s the story:

On this Memorial Day, I find myself thinking of a Marine I never met. And never will.

His name was James. R. McIlvaine. He grew up in Olney, Md., and his mother lives in Purcellville. He was killed in Iraq on April 30 while saving the life of another. He was 26 years old, and the father of two children.

Unfortunately, most of us see news like this every day in the newspaper. We pause, read the details, feel for the family, then turn the page and move on. We don’t dwell on it for too long, because it is inevitable that another face, another name, and another set of circumstances regarding a battlefield casualty will be in the paper in a few more days.

This one was different, because not long afterward my phone rang. McIlvaine had a rather large immediate family, including three sets of grandparents, and the local VFW wanted to make the trip from Purcellville to Arlington Cemetery as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Four SUVs had been secured (two donated for the day by Ray Glembot at Star Pontiac GMC in Leesburg) and a police escort would be provided.

What they needed was one more driver. Could I spare the day, I was asked, to drive one of the vehicles?

The answer, obviously, was “of course.”

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They Never Wanted To Talk About It, But We Should

Everyone has their Memorial Day routines, and they usually involve the grilling of a hamburger or a hot dog, the watching of a sporting event or two, or a late afternoon executive nap. Mine is no different.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found the Sunday morning of the weekend brings back memories. I usually get up before everyone, the house is quiet other than a large dog laying on my lap occasionally snoring, and I find myself remembering the people in my life that Memorial Day is all about.

I’ve never served a day in the military. Never been asked to, never had to, never wanted to. At the age of 18, I had become what my Dad use to sneeringly describe as one of those “know-it-all college kids.” When he was my age, such people went to college. He and his high school classmates went off to war.

The military was all around me, as our house was on Dominion Avenue in Norfolk, only a few miles from Gate 4 of the Amphibious Base. We spent a lot of time on that base, and knew well to stop and stand when you heard the National Anthem; learned when you saw some poor young man doing pushups under the intense stare of another that one was an officer and one was a poor enlisted man; and you  appreciated Naval history.

Yes, you remembered all sorts of sports trivia as a youngster. But in my world, you also knew all about Pearl Harbor, Midway, Iwo Jima and other battles of the Pacific. I learned about them because I knew my Dad had a birds eye view of it all aboard a destroyer or two he served on during that time. I had to learn the details, however, from books at the library at the base.

That’s because my Dad would never talk about it.

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Guest — Johnny Hurst

My uncle

My Uncle was a World War II vet who landed on Normandy the second day. He went on to fight in the Ardennes Forest in the Battle of... Read More
Sunday, 30 May 2021 10:34


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