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No, not forgotten
By WELDON PAYNE
They haven’t forgotten Sgt. David Alexander Stephens in Winchester. Nor Lance Corporal Gregory A. Posey. Or Pfc. Nathan B. Clemons.
This truth was written on the gentle wind that touched the crowd filling the street in front of the 76-year-old Franklin County Courthouse Saturday morning while surely the largest “Old Glory” ever waved from a sky-high crane and Shalene Schmidt described her “little brother” as other family members quietly listened to tributes to this latest Franklin County son to die for his country.
It is easy to forget that we — those in small towns such as Winchester, Manchester, Chapel Hill, Shelbyville, Tullahoma, Lewisburg, Fayetteville, Tracy City and other places small and large throughout the Volunteer State — have not forgotten those who have given all for our country.
We can complain and criticize the apparent indifference to the “full-time” wars that have plagued our nation in the past decade. We can argue about the politics of these and other wars. We can bristle at the tiny number of men and women who have borne and are bearing the heavy burden of wars while seemingly too many of us tip our hats and go on whistling “Dixie” with little apparent concern.
We can fault “the government” for real and imagined neglect to provide needed weapons of protection and yes, we can criticize medical care of the wounded and worry about accommodations for returning men and women who have served our country and risked their lives and now need jobs. It is easy to be cynical.
But then a gentle wind blows on a street filled with ordinary Americans in shirt sleeves and veterans “present colors” and speakers pay tribute to the fallen while Charles Stephens helps unveil a bronze “bust” of his son and Megan listens to tributes paid to her late husband while holding Sienna Stephens, the daughter who was too young to ever remember her father, and we know that “they have not been forgotten.”
A long-time friend, Dave Uselton, who formerly served his country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, was among those speaking in Winchester Saturday. This was especially fitting since his dream to remember American men and women who have paid the ultimate price to defend our country led to “Operation Never Forget.” Now, as southeast regional director of this organization, Dave beams when volunteers from various communities make possible such community tributes as was held in Winchester Saturday. In brief comments there, he stressed that his vision of “Operation Never Forget” was to “make sure all of our fallen heroes from the War on Terror are never forgotten,” but he emphasized that it must be a “community effort” and that it “takes a little courage, caring, and a little time to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Uselton especially thanked “the Patriot Guard Riders” who had escorted Sgt. Stephens’ bust to the square “and for being here to honor him in a special way.”
In one of the strongest voices I’ve heard in years, Curtis Hice, himself a veteran Marine, first sang “Proud To Be an American.” Then, following several speakers, his hickory-stout, rock-solid voice echoed against buildings in the heart of town with “God Bless America.”
For many, surely that request had again been granted, and the special morning surely would be treasured by those remembering Sergeant David Alexander Stephens, United States Army, who gave his life for his country on April 12, 2007, at age 29.