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Archive for Tuesday, May 26, 1998

LAWRENCE, AREA RESIDENTS MARK MEMORIAL DAY

May 26, 1998

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Area residents gathered Monday at each of Lawrence's largest cemeteries, the neighboring Oak Hill and Memorial Park, to honor the memories of America's fallen soldiers.

Eva Edmands is disheartened.

Edmands, a Holocaust survivor whose veteran husband is buried in Lawrence's Memorial Park Cemetery, noticed only one American flag flying from a residence Monday morning on her way to Memorial Day services.

``It seems we have lost some of our patriotism,'' said Edmands, whose family fled Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. ``It just grieves me.''

The first order of business she and her husband undertook when they moved to Lawrence in 1986 was to buy the biggest flag they could. She flies it proudly on every holiday.

Monday, she spoke to a crowd of more than 50 people gathered at Memorial Park Cemetery, where there was certainly no shortage of flags. Hundreds of Stars and Stripes, big and small, flapped in the warm breeze as she addressed the onlookers.

The service was hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 852.

Edmands' husband, William Howard Edmands, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and Korea and was a tail-gunner in B-24 bombers, died five years ago. He is one of many veterans buried at Memorial Park.

``It always does my heart good when I come to the cemetery on Memorial Day,'' Edmands said.

She said she feels a special bond with veterans. Her Jewish family was forced to flee their native Austria for France.

``We were homeless, constantly on the run and constantly in fear for our lives,'' she said.

After spending much of the next several years on the move, they were eventually stowed away in a church boiler room in a small French village, hidden by a noble Catholic priest. For three years they remained in confinement, until the end of the war. Their only access to the outside world was a small radio, on which they could listen to the British Broadcasting Company for news of the war.

Every night they waited to hear the words, ``A friend will come tonight.'' That was the code for impending freedom, and it came the night of the invasion at Normandy.

Without the sacrifices of those troops, she said, ``I'm sure that I wouldn't be here today. ... Thank you for everything you have done.''

After the war, her family moved to New York City, where she met William in 1959.

Today, Edmands believes that many Americans take their freedom for granted.

``You really have to live under a tyranny to appreciate the privilege of living in a free country,'' Edmands said.

As veterans and current members of the U.S. armed forces snapped salutes, rifles blasted 21 reports and ``Taps'' played in the background. VFW representatives placed thatches of flowers into small, white fences near the veterans memorial.

Memorial Park manager Debbie Jacobs estimated that about 2,500 people visited the cemetery during the holiday weekend.

Approximately the same number were expected to visit Oak Hill, across 15th Street from Memorial Park. At Oak Hill, Dorsey-Liberty Post No. 14 of the American Legion sponsored a Memorial Day service attended by more than 100 people.

Legion Cmdr. Leo Langlois said 289 flags were raised at Oak Hill. The 289 signifies the number of members of the Lawrence Legion post who have died since around World War II.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Donald Denmark, a professor of military science at Kansas University since 1995, said he was speaking at the Oak Hill service to remind everyone of the debt owed to veterans.

``I'm not sure that's a good message coming from a veteran, but somebody's got to give it,'' Denmark said. ``All good things are associated with a price. And people pay for freedom with their lives.''

Responding to national reports of dwindling veteran group membership, Don Martin, master of ceremonies for the American Legion, said Lawrence's post has not been affected.

``We usually have between 650 and 700 members,'' Martin said. ``So our enrollment, as far as Legion is concerned, stays pretty constant.''

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is mgowen@ljworld.com.

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