It is hard not to notice that, over the years, the history, and more importantly, the meaning of holidays like Memorial Day is being lost. Like many people of my generation, I remember small town streets festooned with red, white and blue and crowded with people, all waiting for the parade that seemed go on forever.
Neighbors, friends, relatives and even strangers would, for that brief time, on that day, come together as one.
The speed at which life flows these days is symbolized by the harried way many of us rationalize life’s distractions, multitasking we like to call it. In a blur of distraction, we often miss that which once brought us together in a spirit hope, and even joy. Have we lost that the connection with each other?
Though the crowds may be smaller and the parades and speeches a little shorter, the spirit of the day has not been entirely lost.
Over the past year, I have had the privilege of being drawn into the lives of people who were part of Vinton County long before I arrived . One of those people was veteran Sammie Edward Kennedy who passed from this mortal coil in February.
Kennedy served in the Army from 1940 to 1946 and the newly created Air Force from 1946 to 1949.
Kennedy introduced to me by his family who had come to McArthur to celebrate his life. Kennedy’s adopted son, Ernie Anderson of Troutman, N.C. and the rest of Kennedy’s family graciously welcomed me to join in that celebration.
Yet, they did not know me. I was just a reporter looking an interesting tale to tell, but they trusted me enough to share their feelings, their sorrow and even their laughter.
Gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in McArthur I was offered food, drink and, most of all, the chance to glimpse into a life that mirrored the experience of so many veterans of a long ago era.
Kennedy was a decorated war hero but not a hero in the way society today often defines the word. Serving the country in times of war or in peace, is indeed an honorable thing and millions of Americans have proudly worn the uniform, myself included.
But putting on the uniform does make one a hero by default. The title is earned, in my way of thinking, by doing extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances.
Sammie Kennedy did exactly that. He earned not just one but two Bronze Stars for bravery in combat on the island of Leyte and landing on the island of Okinawa in first assault wave.
After being honorable discharged from the Air Force, Kennedy managed to get a job that allowed him to support himself and his family, for 30 years.
Looking back at my own service, and that of my uncle, my father and my grandfather, brings days like Memorial Day into sharper focus. This year was made all the more special when Sammie Kennedy’s family shared his with me.
I am grateful to know that the memory of people like Sammie Kennedy and the historical connection he shared with millions of his fellow Americans, will forever stay with me.