The theme of this weekend is to be dedicated to the memory of veterans who have given service and have sacrificed time from their lives, and some who have given the last measure of service even with their lives, limbs, sight, blood, breath and bodies.
I take it as an honor to be a part of a dedication to them. In my 86 years, I have been acquainted with many of those heroes but make no claim to the honors which they earned as being applicable to myself.
I commend them to you as being worthy of such a salute.
With your indulgence, I would reach back in time to two men from the World War I era that I came to know years later. It seems that most of them have been put aside in history and are not spoken of in our day. But let me tell you of these two men.
One was my dad’s brother, Willie Jarvis. He lived to be 56 and 11 months old. The last 21 years of his life he spent mostly in the Veterans Hospital in Tuscaloosa as an invalid. Willie was gassed in WWI by mustard gas in the battle of Chateau Thierry. His citation read that he returned to the German-gassed trench and brought out six wounded fellow soldiers, saving their lives.
He was commended in person by Gen. “Blackjack” Pershing for this endeavor, but it left him with only one-quarter of his lung function for the rest fo his life. He lived a simple existence at the hospital, tending to the chapel and leading Sunday services as a “jack-legged” preacher for a dozen or so ex-G.I.’s. His life was as simple as his interment. There was never a parade for Willie, and only a simple 2-foot marble cross marks his grave in a postage stamp-sized cemetery in Sumiton. But he was a hero to that dozen or so ex-G.I.’s, some of whom he led to know Christ.
Second, I refer you to Capt. Eddie von Rickenbacker, for whom I worked for 38 years at Eastern Airlines. Eddie was also commended by Gen. Pershing, for being the ace of aces in WWI by shooting down 29 German airplanes, including the famous German ace, “Red Baron.”
Later, he was to have a parade down the streets of New York City in his honor and would be invited to speak at the Senate and Congress in Washington.
In World War II, he and group of six crewmen went down in the Pacific Ocean. They spent many days marooned on a raft in danger of starvation and thirst. One day as Eddie prayed, a sea gull landed on his head, which he captured. They ate raw the meat of the bird and used the entrails as fish bait, by which they survived.
I would say both of these men, that they were heroes. One notable, and the other placed in a remote corner of nowhere... but heroes. So was Gen. Blackjack Pershing, USA AEF.
I’ve been told and read of these men, Willie and Eddie, that in their youth they were vigorous straps of men of 200 pounds, strong as oxen. But the last time I saw each of them they were stooped, drooling, limping, confused and down to about 100 pounds. I’m sure that it was not just age that put them in this condition, but the ravages of war that robbed them of their senior years of pleasure and health. Willie died in the 1950s, and Eddie in the 1970s.
Any man or woman who endures and lives through the viscitudes of war will leave a portion of himself on the field. On this Memorial Day, I remember Willie and Eddie. I ask you to remember with me in a moment of silence for them and the others who gave a part of themselves or even all of themselves, that you may enjoy this free country.
Harold E. Jarvis