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Memorial Day especially meaningful for some
Louise Brechter views late husband Ralph’s certificate of Army Commendation medal at her Hall County home.

Memorial Day parade

When: 10 a.m. today

Where: Starts at the First Baptist Church of Gainesville, 751 Green St., travels down E.E. Butler Parkway and ends at the corner of E.E. Butler and Spring Street

Parking: Use the downtown parking garage on E.E Butler between Broad and Spring streets

Traffic: Starting at 9 a.m., Green Street will be closed from the Gainesville Civic Center to where the roadway turns onto E.E. Butler Parkway and all the way to where E.E. Butler intersects with Washington Street. One block of side streets on either side along this route also will be closed.

Who: Put on by the Paul E. Bolding Post 7 American Legion

Honorary grand marshal: U.S. Rep. Doug Collins; any veterans of World War II also are grand marshals

Participants: Girls Scouts; Boy Scouts; high school bands from Chestatee, East Hall, Johnson, West Hall, North Hall and Lumpkin County; North Forsyth High School Junior Marine Corps ROTC, public safety groups, Shriners and more

Showing respect for America’s fallen military on Memorial Day is one thing.

And then there’s truly remembering, never shaking off the memories, as Kathryn R. Goudelock of Gainesville does.

The memories of her husband Forrest’s April 1968 death in the Vietnam War are as fresh as if they happened yesterday. She recalls talking to him by phone on a Friday night, getting a letter from him on Saturday, then hearing Monday he had been killed.

“It just tore me up,” Goudelock said.

For her, Memorial Day is not just a three-day weekend featuring parades and picnics. It’s a time to seriously reflect on the holiday’s true meaning — honoring those who died in the military while serving their country.

She spent years traveling to Birmingham, Ala., which has several events devoted to observing Memorial Day. Later, she laid wreaths during ceremonies at the Marietta National Cemetery on behalf of Gold Star Wives of America, a group of widows and widowers of service members.

Goudelock was relieved when a Memorial Day parade and other ceremonies started in Gainesville.

A lack of ceremonies “honoring those who have served and gone on ... hurts me,” she said. “It really does.”

The day also is somber for other families, especially those with strong military ties.

This Memorial Day arrives with the family of Ralph Brechter — a highly decorated veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars — mourning his death earlier this month.

During a visit to his West Hall County home last week, Brechter’s widow, Louise, showed off his medals, flags he had captured in Vietnam and his beloved Lutheran Bible.

His son, Ron, showed a poignant video featuring pictures from his life, with many showing him surrounded by family, and his military funeral with a 21-gun salute and horse-drawn caisson.

Brechter, who was 79 when he died May 5, loved Memorial Day, Louise Brechter said.

“He was up and ready to go to the parade,” she said.

“To me, it’s a day that honors all those who went before us sacrificing their life for our freedom,” said Ron Brechter, a Coast Guard veteran. “There are so many people today who look at it as another holiday — fire up the barbecue pit and go to the beach and swim.

“I think it has lost its true meaning. Fortunately, there are still some of us around who can appreciate what those (veterans) have done for us.”

John Perry of Gainesville said last week he was hoping to drive his 1928 Ford Model A Shay Roadster in today’s parade as a sort of tribute to his three brothers, who all served in the military.

Kenneth served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Edwin served in the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps. And David, who died just a month ago, served in the Army, then later joined the National Guard.

Memorial Day always has been a part of John Perry’s life.

“I can remember marching in the (National Guard) parade and putting flags out and different things — it’s a great day,” he said. “I never thought of it as just a day off.”

Scott Gibbs, who represents North Hall on the Hall County Board of Commissioners, also is remembering his father, Jimmy “Doug” Gibbs, who was part of the “Frozen Chosin,” veterans who fought an against-all-odds battle in horrific conditions during the Korean War.

“Besides his family, he loved the fact that he was able to serve his country,” Gibbs said. “He had lifelong friends (from Korea) that I call aunt and uncle.”

Memorial Day should be spent “honoring those who have fallen, but you don’t want to forget those who are still here,” he added. “I do appreciate those (who) gave it all, but we have to take care of those lucky enough to have come home.

“I’m always apprehensive about the parade. ... I go, but I feel like I should be on the sidelines and let (veterans) have all the attention.”

Goudelock, who never remarried, said she worries that Memorial Day is losing its meaning among younger generations.

“They’re at the parade, but I don’t see many of them at (programs),” she said.

Ceremonies at Rock Creek Veterans Park in Gainesville draw mostly veterans and few others, young and old alike, Goudelock said.

“Every year, I can’t understand why more people don’t come,” she said. “You can take an hour — or 30 minutes, at the most — to give them a little honor.”