Dec. 17 is National Wreaths Across America Day. The Narrow Passage chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution will honor local heroes at 14 cemeteries in Shenandoah County. This effort was started at Arlington several years ago by an individual wanting to recognize and honor those who gave so much for their country and has grown nationally and internationally each year. 

In anticipation of the event, I recently visited Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery is sacred for me and my family as my grandfather, a World War II United States Army chaplain, my father and his twin brother, both World War II U.S. Navy veterans, and lastly my uncle, Richard Marshall Graham Jr., are all interred there. Though they all served across the globe in time of conflict, they now rest peaceably in repose within sight of each other among America’s heroes.

All of them were part of America’s greatest generation that is, unfortunately, fading fast. Many volunteered to serve, did their duty, and then returned home to raise a family and made America the great nation that she is today. However, like so many buried at Arlington, Richard Marshall Graham Jr. died while serving his country but was unable to enjoy the fruits of his dedication and self-sacrifice.

Wanting to follow in the footsteps of his father, my uncle enrolled in the U.S. Marine Corps at 17 years of age. He was able only to enlist with the consent of both of his parents. Filled with the eager anticipation of being a part of something bigger than himself he proceeded to Paris Island, South Carolina, was assigned to Marine Corps basic training and earned the title of U.S. Marine. In early August 1945, Richard proceeded to a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) as part of the spearhead land force for a planned invasion of Japan. While en route to Japan, the ship received notice that Japan had surrendered. 

Richard and his parents took as a sign from God that his life was spared so he could go on to greater accomplishments. After completing his initial enlistment in the Corps, he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1948 to fly jets. He was enrolled in basic flight school and was in the final stages of aviation training when he was killed in an aviation mishap.  

Although he never completed flight school, my uncle, who was a devout Christian, received his “wings” that day. Like many others of that era, he now rests with those who answered the call: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, 'Here I am. Send me!'" Isaiah 6:8.

May God bless those veterans who answered the call with their lives, and may we remember, teach and honor them by placing a wreath on their final resting place.

Joanne Poplar was born and raised in Virginia and a proud resident of Shenandoah County. She has a passion and commitment to preserve the rich historical gifts and heritage that make the valley a treasure without equal.

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