The Marshall Plan: Honor them always

There are many schools of thought on how to properly honor, remember and salute our nation’s fallen servicemen and women on Memorial Day weekend.
Thousands of motorcycles rumbled into Washington, D.C. for Rolling Thunder, tributes had us wiping back tears on television and ceremonies like the one held at Culpeper’s National Cemetery, honored the fallen in towns across the nation.
My 10-year old son rode on the backseat of his grandfather’s Harley Davidson for the first time. He rode with the Combat Vets Association’s Northern Virginia Chapter for a Memorial Day Ceremony at Quantico National Cemetery.

His grandfather is a retired Navy Chief and Vietnam veteran. Among the men within the association were veterans of Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other military actions from the 1950s to the present day.
They have road names like Road Kill, Bubba, Rocket and Jumpmaster.
Multiple veteran-oriented motorcycle clubs chose to honor the fallen. They along with Boy Scouts and Young Marines escorted aged-veterans and provided water for the event.

Among the honored guests was a 105-year old retired military nurse.
Coming from a military family and as a former soldier, it was important for my son to experience the company of such brave servicemen and women. It presents a lesson in history and patriotism that cannot be accomplished in a classroom.
The many leather vests are essentially a warrior’s mosaic, a colorful snapshot of their military past and all the journeys they took. The ceremony though smaller in scale was inspiring and at times heart-wrenching.
After the crowd had departed, I found myself alone among hundreds of white stones set uniformly into a green hillside. The only sound came from cicadas in the trees.

I looked for a familiar name, the sister of a college friend, one that I had an association with ― then I saw the name.
Jamie Lynn Fallon, USN
I knew her mostly through her brother, but I recalled her being a fiery, red-haired lady with a caring nature. She was only in her 20s and she left a seven-month old son and a grieving family behind the day she fell.
Her obituary at the time of her passing read:
Jamie Lynn was born in Towson, Maryland. She joined the Navy, following in the footsteps of her father, a retired Chief Radioman. In her brief five years as an enlisted Storekeeper, Jamie had the opportunity to serve an overseas tour in Bahrain and a three-year sea duty tour before being assigned to serve in a Navy command center at the Pentagon.
Jamie was on duty in the Pentagon on 11 September when the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
She served within one of our nation’s most secure buildings.

She died serving her country, not on a foreign field, but in a very different type of conflict.
I’ve visited her grave a few times during ceremonies held there and I once took a group of summer camp teenagers there to explain what happened on 9/11.
My brother Owen, a museum curator at the National Museum of the United States Marine Corps, told me his feelings in regards to Memorial Day. He processes and displays countless museum items associated with Marine Corps history daily. He recently visited Iwo Jima.
He told me that when he speaks to veterans from the worst battles past and present, the survivors all carry a heavy burden of survivor’s guilt.
The veterans look at him and say, “Memorial Day is not for those who served or serve. It is really for the 19-year old hero who sacrificed an entire lifetime for his comrades and nation. These veterans recall brave young men who fought to protect fellow Marines. They recount how some never made it to the beach to fight.”

Walking among the marker stones was a wounded veteran from Afghanistan who had seen so much combat for his age. He was there to honor a fallen comrade. They look young, too young, yet their eyes betray their age. They have seen so many blood-drenched days.
“It hurts to know how many things in life these men and women gave up,” said a Marine with an artificial arm. “We miss them and we owe it to them to honor their memory. They will never have time with family, rides on motorcycles, fishing trips, picnics or parades. We mourn them every day we exist.”

In the quiet moments, after the ceremonies and parades fade like a bugle call, it is easy to remember Abraham Lincoln’s words:
“To care for him who shall have borne the battle… for his widow and his orphan…”
Never forget.
Marshall Conner is a regular contributor to Culpeper Times.