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Harris Blackwood: Remembering those whose sacrifice led to a sacred place of honor
Wreaths grace headstones at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) - photo by Associated Press

Wilbur Ramsey was a great man. He served his country in World War II and was honored with the Silver Star for valor in combat. When he died in 2009, he had already made arrangements to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington. Less than a year later, his widow, Dixie, would join him there when she died.

Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood
It’s hard to think of Memorial Day without thinking of Arlington. There are 400,000 veterans and members of their immediate families buried there.

I had been on the tourist tour of Arlington, but last year I went by to pay my respects to Wilbur and Dixie Ramsey. They are the first people I actually knew to be buried there.

Wilbur Ramsey got to come home from the war and was a successful businessman. But many who now reside at Arlington never did. Those are the ones to be remembered on Memorial Day.

Many teenaged boys left wearing the uniform of our country to serve in times of war. All too many of them came home in a flag-draped coffin. Wives, girlfriends, parents and friends would learn that someone they loved had become a casualty of war, paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Enis Roberts of Hall County was one of the first local casualties of World War II. On Jan. 29, 1942, less than two months after the start of the war, Roberts was killed when a German torpedo struck the USS Alexander Hamilton in the North Atlantic.

His twin brother, Aubrey Roberts, was on Iwo Jima in February 1945 when the flag was famously raised on Mount Suribachi.

The area where the Ramseys are buried is in the shadow of the Air Force Memorial. Among the names on that memorial is Hilliard A. Wilbanks, who was flying reconnaissance for a Ranger battalion. He spotted the enemy close by and alerted the ground troops. He was shot down after emptying his last ammunition in his rifle. He died en route to a hospital. A middle school in his home of Habersham County now bears his name.

I never knew Enis Roberts or Hilliard Wilbanks, but I think of them as two heroes from our region. So, too, are the many soldiers, sailors and airmen whose families received a knock at the door telling them of the death of their loved one.

“On the behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I extend to you and your family my deepest sympathy in your great loss,” the notification said.

Memorial Day is the day that we should do the same.

Some didn’t get to come home, like the 9,387 World War II dead who are buried at Normandy.

I think of my great-great-grandfather, who is buried in a common grave with dozens of other at a Civil War battlefield in Spotsylvania County, Va.

We have so many service members who have contributed to our communities and beyond their military service have left a legacy of service to community and love of family. We should thank them at every opportunity.

But for this one day, we need to remember those who never had the chance to do that because of an enemy’s action. This is their day.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear Sundays.

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