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American Legion works to ensure the fallen are remembered
HURRICANE - Jody Wood had fretted that her boy would be alone on Monday. Due to visit Utah from her Colorado home in June, and then again in July, she had decided not to come up for Memorial Day. But as the day approached, she began to wonder whether she had made a mistake.
Who would be in Hurricane to visit her soldier son? Who would be there to stand by his grave and thank him, once again, for the sacrifice he made in Kirkuk, Iraq, last July?
Would everyone forget?
They fanned out across the graveyard like soldiers on patrol, a band of men made brothers on the beaches of Normandy, at the Pusan perimeter, in Saigon.
And they searched.
For brothers long lost and shortly departed. For those who, like themselves, had answered their nation's call.
For Joseph Paxton, World War I.
For Emil Graff, World War II.
For Boyd Stevens, Korea.
For David Reeve, Vietnam.
And for Ronald Wood, Iraq.
George Strutzel was the first to come upon Wood's grave. The large man wore an American Legion garrison cap and a solemn expression across his face. He stood before the red granite marker and sighed.
And sighed again.
And again, before stooping down to push a thin wooden pole into the ground.
The flag attached immediately rose to life in the cold morning breeze.
"God bless you, Ronnie," Strutzel said as he turned from the grave and moved on.
Strutzel choked back tears at the thought that any mother, anywhere, might fret over the thought that the son she lost in war would not be greeted on Memorial Day.
"So long as there is an American Legion, by God, so long as there is a post here, there will be flags on these graves," the Vietnam veteran said. "There will never come a year when we are not here."
For whatever reason, this duty falls upon them. Perhaps because they've always done it. Perhaps because they, unlike others, understand the hell that is war - and thus cannot forget those who fought, like they did.
"I just wish another mother's boy wouldn't get killed in another crazy war," Bert Willmore said as he strode toward the flagless tombstone of a fellow World War II veteran.
At 84, Willmore must stop to rest - and sometimes, to cry - every few stones.
But he presses on.
"No one will be forgotten," Willmore says as he turns toward the grave of Kenneth Webb, a civilian contractor killed last year in Mosul, Iraq.
"No one. Ever."