OPINION COLUMNS

Never forget the sacrifices of those who serve

By Brian Knox | Published Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sacrifice in the name of public service takes many forms.

Recognition of that sacrifice is often lacking.

I was reminded of two types of sacrifices recently, and both deserve our remembrance.

Brian Knox

I received an email from Sharlene Van Rooy with the Hollister, Calif., Downtown Association. She said a Purple Heart belonging to a man named “George A. Long” had somehow ended up in a thrift store in her town. She had apparently researched the name and come up with possible places Long had lived.

Van Rooy had found a Decatur resident and World War I soldier by that name who was born in 1893 and died in July of 1976. She was looking for an obituary to see if it mentioned any relatives who lived in Hollister.

Having a name and a month and year of death, I pulled one of our old bound volumes from our archive room here at the newspaper. As I flipped through the brittle, yellowed pages, I came across a rather humble-looking obituary tucked neatly between an advertisement for shag carpeting and a public utilities notice on the bottom of page 17.

“Long rites held Tues.” the headline read.

As I read through the obituary, I found the first clue that this could be the rightful owner of the Purple Heart. It listed a surviving daughter who lived in Hollister.

I was able to find the scanned obituary (two of them, actually) online thanks to the award-winning genealogical website operated by Sue Tackel and LaDarla Keith and sent the link to Van Rooy.

Within just a few hours, Van Rooy replied that she was able to use the obituary information to track down an obit for George’s daughter, Elizabeth, who had lived in Hollister. Through that obituary, she discovered that her sons still owned the home. However, she was a little concerned that if they let the Purple Heart go in the first place, she might want to return it to another family member.

About a week later, Van Rooy emailed me with good news. “I was able to Google a grandson … who now lives in San Francisco,” she wrote. “He knew of the Purple Heart and believes his father donated it to the thrift store after his wife died. He was very excited to have it back, so it is going in the mail today.”

I took another look at Long’s obit. What struck me was that it made no mention of him being a veteran, let alone being a Purple Heart recipient.

It made me wonder how many other people we pass every day who have made sacrifices for our safety but seek no recognition for their actions. They simply did their duty because it was the right thing to do.

Another emailer pointed out that this past week was National Police Week, which always falls in the same calendar week as National Peace Officers Memorial Day, every May 15. The week recognizes the service and sacrifice of our law enforcement officers.

While most of us are well aware of the dangers of the job and the sacrifices that are made, especially with the death of Bridgeport officer Randy White two years ago still fresh in our memories, how often do we stop to thank those officers who risk their life every day to keep us safe? Like the person who gave away the Purple Heart – do we fail to recognize the significance of the sacrifices made on our behalf?

As we approach Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free and safe, let us also think about those all around us who continue to serve without seeking recognition.

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