‘A reminder of the price that is paid’

Before he and his fellow Korean War veterans were recognized during a Memorial Day service, Wade Arnette expressed his own appreciation.

“I really appreciate people supporting Memorial Day, and may they always continue to do that, because some didn’t come back,” said Arnette, who was honored along with fellow post members Richard Kohler, Robert Nicks and Isaac Wright as part of the Memorial Day service at Post 166 in Goose Creek, S.C.

“It’s so important for people to know what democracy stands for,” Arnette added.

That’s a lesson keynote speaker Stacy Pearsall shared. The co-host of the Legion’s Tango Alpha Lima podcast and a life member of Post 166, Pearsall noted that her grandfather and great uncle were Korean War veterans.

“My emotions are raw, as they are every Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and a few anniversaries I want to share with you,” Pearsall said as she shared her experiences in Iraq and the battle of Baqubah in 2007.

Pearsall reflected on her experience in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day 2009, when she was in the area for an event and decided to visit Arlington National Cemetery. There, at the grave of one of her fallen comrades, Sgt. Alan Shaw, she came to a realization.

“They had died so that I could live,” Pearsall said. “To end my life would be a complete disservice to Alan, and Specialist (Leroy) Camacho, Sgt. (Eric) Ross, to all of them, and in that moment, I knew I wasn’t alone, that they were there with me in spirit. … I had a mission and a purpose. I had to be the one to save myself.”

Pearsall noted that the adage “time heals all wounds” isn’t really true.

“I’m proof that it doesn’t. Not these wounds. These bonds that were forged in war cannot be broken by death or time. However, I will say this. Time has provided me the space I needed to see and to realize that some wounds should remain open, they should remain raw, they should be felt — a reminder of the price that is paid,” she said.

“… These wounds no longer threaten to consume me but to serve as a reminder as to why I lived. They motivate me to be the one to forge ahead, to live for those who cannot, to rededicate my life every day in service to my family, my husband, my community, and the others who we helped.”

Following Pearsall’s keynote, post members and guests gathered outside where a memorial area has been set aside to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Students at Howe Hall AIMS (Art Infused Magnet School), across the street from the post, painted a mural while local company Sunshine Landscape and Design created the patio which includes bricks dedicated to 83 area veterans killed in action.

“Once I heard it was for The American Legion, I really wanted to be a part of it,” said Sunshine’s Victor Perez, a lance corporal stationed at Naval Support Activity Charleston who runs the business with his father.

Perez was pleased to see the turnout for the Memorial Day service at Post 166.

“To keep the fallen ones in our hearts, I think it’s really important,” he said.

Placing flags for the fallen

Two days earlier, on Saturday morning, Post 166 Legion Family members and others from the community gathered at nearby Carolina Memorial Gardens to place flags on veterans’ graves.

As Don Pace, Post 166’s former commander and current Americanism chairman, drove around the cemetery in his pickup truck, collecting worn-out flags from the volunteers, he reflected on the 40-plus years the post has placed flags at the Gardens.

He said Post 166 took over the tradition after the local branch of the Fleet Reserve Association folded. On Saturday, volunteers placed some 3,800 flags.

“We used to come back that night and pick them back up” because it was a challenge for the cemetery’s grounds crew to work around the flags, Pace said. Now, they stay up year-round, with the worn-out flags being properly disposed of at least once a quarter.

Pace and other Legion Family members expressed their gratitude for the community volunteers who assist with the flag effort.

“Every year we get a lot of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. … Most of the time, we’ll get JROTC units from the local high schools, if they get the word on time. Sometimes we’ll get active-duty personnel out here,” Pace said. “Last year, we even had a contingency of U.S. Marines here from the weapons station and some from Parris Island.”

“Makes me feel really proud that the parents and the (Scout) leaders would encourage them to come out and participate in this and see what it’s like, hopefully keep it going for years to come,” said Unit 166 President Gloria Evans-Hill.

“If you didn’t have the support of the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the VFW, AmVets, just common ordinary people come out because they know this is what it’s for. That’s what makes us so proud, it’s not just us doing it, it’s the community,” said District 6 Commander William “Bill” Simpson.

Pace, a staunch traditionalist, doesn’t foresee the flag-placing tradition going away.

“If we ever had a year where we didn’t do this, Lord have mercy, the ground would turn upside down. … It’s a tradition that I don’t foresee it will ever go away,” he said.