Part of this weekend, my dear wife and I will be stepping back in time into the 18th Century as we celebrate the 43rd annual Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous.
We plan to visit and speak with George Washington, watch jugglers extraordinaire the Budabi Brothers, and down a mess of crick fried tators. We are sure to watch the Colonial soldiers battle the Crown Forces of England at least once, sway and tap our toes to some idyllic music and, as we always do, buy toys and trinkets for the four darling Carroll granddaughters.
The Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous won’t be the only spot where we are stepping back in time this Memorial Day. There are many ports of call for Carroll Castle this weekend as we will be traveling the area visiting the graves of relatives and friends.
There are plenty of memories to savor and precious moments to cherish for us while decorating the resting places of loved ones and friends. Some Memorial Day weekends we have traveled as far as Anna, Illinois, and Sturgis, Kentucky, to remember those from the 1800s through 2017.
This Memorial Day is a bit different for Carroll Castle. For the first time in a long while, the list of graves to decorate and visit did not increase from last year.
No matter whom it is, step back in time to remember those who have gone before you on this special day.
Uh, perhaps I need to rephrase that last sentence.
No matter whom it is, step back in time to remember those who have gone before you on every day.
That bit of sage advice came from my late uncle, John W. Vaughn — or as I called him Uncle J — one day during the 1960s while I visited his upholstery shop in Lawrenceville, Illinois. I was maybe 10 or 11 at the time and proudly spouting off all the words I had just memorized in school about the upcoming Veterans Day.
“I will remember you Uncle J on your special day,” I told him.
Uncle J, who was a World War II prisoner of war and wounded veteran, grinned and proceeded to educate me on the true meaning of Veterans Day, and his lesson applies so well to Memorial Day. I have never forgotten the next few words he spoke since Uncle J rarely mentioned his World War II days.
“Every day is special to me Dougie,” Uncle J began, “because I got to come home from the fighting. I still have buddies resting overseas I will remember today, tomorrow and next Friday. I was one of the lucky ones and lucky people must live each day as special.”
Those words were so appropriate coming from a guy who was born and raised near a little Union County unincorporated spot in the road called Pride, Kentucky.
It took me a while to understand what Uncle J meant by lucky. I watched him struggle daily with epilepsy and seizures caused by a head injury suffered during a battle in late 1942.
He enlisted in the army during September of 1940 and soon found himself in training to join a special operations unit in the war’s European theater. He and his fellow soldiers had the assignment to “soften up” or disrupt German forces and supply lines before major battles.
One mission did not end until a full battle started and Uncle J suffered a head wound in it. His injury led to capture and a stay of about two months in a German prisoner of war camp.
Uncle J’s head wound received little medical attention but his desire to survive and “see Kentucky again” kept him alert enough to escape with the help of a fellow G.I.
The two soldiers made it to a nearby Belgian village and got lucky — there is that word again — when they knocked on the door of a family sympathetic to the Allied cause. They made it back across American lines and Uncle J soon found himself on a troop hospital ship heading home.
Despite what Uncle J called “some damn fine” medical care, his injury turned out to be a permanent disability. He suffered from severe epileptic seizures or spells as he called them the rest of his life but never complained.
Once he got back to the U.S., Uncle J refused a medical discharge and served his country in another worthy, yet somber duty. He became a funeral honor guard soldier who handed the folded American flag, which just minutes before had draped the casket of a fallen war hero, to the next of kin.
Unfortunately, seizures soon forced him into a medical discharge on Feb. 6, 1943, just one day after his 24th birthday.
No matter how many praises the folks of Lawrenceville and Lawrence County heaped on Uncle J during Veterans Day ceremonies, he remained a simple, humble man. He rarely spoke of his war experience but often reminded us it was an honor rather than merely a duty for him to serve his country.
Uncle J is one of those I try to remember every day. His words from my boyhood remain as powerful today as when I first heard him speak.
Here’s hoping you step back in time at some point during this Memorial Day weekend to remember and honor those relatives, friends, neighbors, classmates, acquaintances and veterans who are gone but should never be forgotten.
Doug Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.