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“The Soldiers in foreign lands; the Sailors on foreign Seas; the Marines in hand to hand; the Airmen in lofty skies; the men and women who stayed to watch our coasting guard our shores, these brave men and women we remember and honor” read the program at Monday’s Memorial Day service at the Coffee County Courthouse.
Each Memorial Day at noon, American Legion Post 515 hosts a ceremony to remember the 87 Coffee County servicemen and first responders who have been killed in the line of duty. It’s time to pause, reflect, and honor those who laid down their lives to protect the citizens of Coffee County as well as those beyond the county’s borders.
The ceremony always includes reading each name on the memorial that stands on the east side of the Coffee County Courthouse. Inscribed on the memorial are the names of each local soldier or first responder who has given his life in combat in any war or the line of duty.
Following the remembrance, a keynote speaker addresses those in attendance. This year’s speaker was Dr. Jim Cottingham, Vice President Emeritus for Student Affairs and Professor Emeritus of Education and Psychology at South Georgia State College.
Dr. Cottingham shared the tales of two of his relatives, his great-great-great-uncle Lawrence Newbern, who was killed in the line of duty in Broxton in 1914, and Lawrence’s nephew, Navy Ensign Daniel Newbern III, who was killed in a plane crash during a training exercise in 1944. Both are buried in Broxton Cemetery.
Dr. Cottingham also referenced a visit to The Old Burial Ground, a cemetery in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The cemetery wall was built in 1794 by veterans of the Revolutionary War.
The Old Burial Ground was a significant experience for Dr. Cottingham and he shared his reflections with which the experience left him. He closed his remarks with the following: “Friends, how shall we respond? As a tribute to their courage, their sacrifice, and – yes – ‘that last full measure of their devotion,’ let us resolve to care for those who have shouldered these great burdens of sacrifice and loss. Let’s commit to celebrate, preserve, and elevate the American ideals for which they gave their lives.
On this day and always, let us be a people who gratefully remember those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. May God Bless You and God Bless America -- Land of the free, home of the brave. Thank you.”
The full text of Dr. Cottingham’s remarks is included below.
Thank you for that warm introduction. It is indeed an honor to join you here in this special place on this fine occasion -- Memorial Day!
We all have heroes. I have a great deal of admiration for two of our nation’s decorated veterans who both went on to serve in the U S House of Representatives and later held key leadership roles in the U S Senate -- Bob Dole, a Republican of Kansas, and Daniel Inouye, a Democrat of Hawaii. They both served with distinction during WW II, and both suffered traumatic injuries, including the permanent loss of their right arm.
We loved Dole’s wit. When a tough question was lobbed at him, he would sometimes smile and say “that is above my pay grade.”
While I readily admit that it is above my pay grade to address you on this solemn occasion, I cherish this opportunity and sincerely thank you for the honor. I dedicate these remarks to you men and women who joined the ranks of those serving in uniform near and far to protect this great nation. We thank you. And we salute your families as well.
The invitation for me to speak to you was extended by Post 515 Legionnaire Carl McDonald. Professor McDonald, you and your fellow service men and women deserve our gratitude not only for your service to America while you all were in the armed services but also for the service you have continued to provide in the years following.
I frequently attend public functions in which we all stand and “Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands”. I often look around the gatherings and I see military veterans, facing that beautiful flag as they have hundreds of times before. I think of the places throughout this country and beyond where their service has taken them. And I know that we are enriched by their being among us.
I recently shared with Dr. McDonald a memory about my Great-Great-Uncle Lawrence Newbern who was killed in Broxton in 1914 while attempting to “enforce the peace.” Just a few steps from his grave in the Broxton Cemetery is the grave of a 22-year-old nephew whom he did not live to meet – Navy Ensign Daniel Newbern III -- who lost his life 30 years later when his plane crashed during a WW II training exercise. Five others went down with him that December day in 1944. An only child, both of his parents had died earlier years earlier. In addition to extended family, he left a fiancé to mourn his death. Although she later went on to marry, raise a fine family, and complete a successful career as a school counselor, she made no secret of the fact to many of us that the death of Dannie Boy was never far from her thoughts. To give an idea of how long grief continues, she lived until February 4, 2022. (An interesting side note: On her husband’s grave, also in Broxton, is noted that he survived that fateful attack on Pearl Harbor. Not to be outdone, her marker exclaims that she was a survivor of 40 years in education. Four of those were as my high school counselor.)
In memory of Dannie Boy, these others whose names are inscribed before us, and gave all we gather in a solemn observance that dates back over 150 years in our great country’s history. Whether we call it Remembrance Day, Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, we are observing a time-honored tradition often associated with the days following the Civil War. But pausing to remember the casualties of war dates further in our collective memory.
A few years ago (2011) I had the privilege of sauntering through a cemetery in Sturbridge, Massachusetts -- The Old Burial Ground. I was with my father-in-law -- WW II veteran B-52 pilot John E. Stanick, 2nd Lt. in the Army Air Corps -- but that is a story for another day. I took a few photographs to help me savor the occasion. Surrounding the cemetery was a stone wall, three or so feet tall, erected in 1794 by veterans of the American Revolution. Think about this for a moment, a cemetery that predates our nation’s founding, surrounded by a structure built by veterans who helped secure our independence. Let me describe the scene. The older grave markers inside the beautiful tree shaded cemetery were made of thin blueish gray slate, no thicker than an inch. The inscriptions on the headstones were etched or chiseled by hand. And the stones look like they had been gathered nearby.
I enjoy imagining what these veterans were thinking and experiencing as they worked together to complete that project. Now Jerome Loving and Bobby Tanner, while we know that the American Legion would not be chartered for another 125 years (1919), we can be confident that these veterans like you who were there to get things organized.
Some of the veterans at the Old Burial Ground could share memories of fellow patriots who had not returned from war. Others were thinking of the widows and orphans buried here. Others would think of family members buried there who had lived their lives without a beloved son, or brother, or father.
And I think that other veterans there might have been thinking about some of their contemporaries who had also shown great courage while forging the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other bold statements about what we aspired to become as a nation.
Some gathered then might have thought of the likes of Benjamin Franklin. When he was asked following the convention if we would have a monarchy or a republic, he prophetically replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Our founders knew so well that freedom would not be free, and that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” They would have identified with George Washington’s assertion a few years earlier (1790) that America “seemed to be the last great experiment, for human happiness … a government of accommodation as well as a government of laws...”
Yes, visiting that cemetery 1000 miles away from Coffee County, Georgia was a touching experience for me. But really, it was no more touching than visiting this site where we solemnly gather today, or nearby cemeteries marking the final resting places of those who, in the timeless words of Abraham Lincoln, gave “that last full measure of their devotion.”
Friends, how shall we respond? As a tribute to their courage, their sacrifice, and – yes – “that last full measure of their devotion”, let us resolve to care for those who have shouldered these great burdens of sacrifice and loss. Let’s commit to celebrate, preserve, and elevate the American ideals for which they gave their lives.
On this day and always, let us be a people who gratefully remember those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. May God Bless You and God Bless America -- Land of the free, home of the brave.
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