Lawrence veterans groups honor soldiers, families on Memorial Day

Owen Thompson, 6, center, touches the gravestone of his grandfather Lawrence Turner, a veteran of World War II, during a visit to Oak Hill Cemetery before the family attended the American Legion Liberty-Post No. 14 Memorial Day services Monday. Joining Owen from left is his grandfather Bill Gillispie, his brother Turner, 9, sister Evelyn, 3 and mother, Jessica Thompson, of Blue Springs, Mo.

About 200 people gathered Monday morning at Oak Hill Cemetery in East Lawrence to reflect on the past and remember loved ones during the American Legion Liberty-Post No. 14’s Memorial Day service.

Randy Masten, a retired Army Foreign Area Officer, delivered the ceremony’s opening speech. While praising soldiers’ dedication in times of war, Masten also stressed the importance of continuing to support veterans after they return from the battlefield. Many soldiers “survived the wars but now cannot face daily life,” he said, referencing the “thousands of homeless veterans who struggle with PTSD, depression, addiction and other ailments.”

The “physical and mental ravages of war” don’t just fall on the shoulders of veterans, he said. Spouses, children, parents and friends must go on living while their “fallen heroes” are gone.

“War is a vicious assault on humanity and on morality,” said Matsen, who also serves as the Assistant Director in the Office of Graduate Military Programs at Kansas University. “No one walks away unscathed — just ask the spouse or loved one of any vet.”

Valerie Moreau, a member of Post No. 14’s Auxiliary, shared similar thoughts as she wiped away tears during the ceremony. Hearing the names of deceased veterans being read aloud, one by one, conjured up images of “the families and children who lost their parents” to war, Moreau said. Her own father, though he didn’t die in battle, served in the Air Force during World War II.

Stacy Orr, Lawrence, left, and her mother Marie Potter, Lawrence, attend the American Legion Liberty-Post No. 14 Memorial Day service at Oak Hill Cemetery, Monday, May 26, 2014. Potter's husband, Donald Potter, a Korean War veteran, died in January, and a flag in his honor was added to the American Legion's Avenue of Flags this year.

Leonard Monroe remained at the service long after Legion members fired the last shots of the closing salute. He had traveled to the ceremony Monday, just as he does every Memorial Day, to honor the many veterans in his life. The spry 82-year-old spent 23 years in the Air Force, and fought in both Korea and Vietnam.

His father, brother, uncle and several friends are all buried at Oak Hill. After decorating the graves of his family members Monday morning, he placed a single flower over the grave of Donald Dillon, a childhood friend who was killed in action while serving in Vietnam.

One summer day in 1966, they sat “in the backyard, drinking a beer” together before both shipping off to war. For Dillon, a Marine, it was the third trip to Vietnam. Monroe remembers thinking his friend was crazy to go back again, but Dillon wasn’t concerned. “Third time’s the charm,” he told Monroe.

“We both went to Vietnam in July and we both came back from Vietnam in July. Of course, I came back alive — Donald came back in a box,” Monroe recalled. “That’s one reason I’m here, to honor not only my family but all these other vets out here.”

An hour later, soft drizzle fell over Memorial Park Cemetery for a few minutes before letting up just in time for another Memorial Day service. Melissa Jarboe gave the opening speech of the ceremony, hosted by Lawrence’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 852.

In March 2012, the Holton native lost her husband, Jamie, to injuries suffered from a sniper bullet in Afghanistan. The wound rendered Jamie quadriplegic, and he spent nearly a year in the hospital and underwent almost 100 surgeries as doctors tried to restore the Army sergeant’s health.

Through it all, Melissa and her daughters stuck by his side.

“Our family spent the entire summer inside an ICU room. For Halloween, my daughters went trick-or-treating at the nurses’ station,” Jarboe recalled, speaking to a crowd of about 50. “For Thanksgiving, somebody brought us some leftovers from their Thanksgiving dinner. And on Christmas, we slept next to his hospital bed.”

Shortly before he died, Jamie delivered his dying wish to Melissa — that she would “take care of fellow service members” and honor the “millions of veterans” that served before him, she said.

That, she added, is what Memorial Day is all about. In her closing remarks, Melissa said thinking about “the sacrifices our veterans … make for us daily” has helped her heal.

“Each day I strive to create change in the world, just as my husband created change in me,” she said.