By Brandon Martin
Local heroes were honored in the 73rd annual Memorial Day Service in Martinsville.
Following an introduction and welcome by Kelly Ratliff, Danny Turner recognized Lewis Randolph Lovell, Jr. as the first soldier to be honored during the ceremony.
Lovell had lived nearby, on Highland Ridge, recalled Turner, who also is a member of Martinsville City Council. “He lived on the 7th house on the left, I lived in the 13th house on the left,”
Lovell was born Feb. 5, 1947, according to Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson. He died June 6, 1968, after succumbing to injuries he received from a landmine while in Vietnam, she added.
Lovell’s sister, Carol Lovell, also was among the speakers to participate in the ceremony.
“It gets easier some years and some years it’s not, but thank everybody,” she said before walking with Lawson and Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, to place a wreath on her brother’s grave.
Griffith’s remarks were tied to the legend behind an old Scottish song, “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.”
“In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie rose up to reclaim the crown of England for the Stuart dynasty,” he said. “He led the Scots into Britain and they were defeated. On the way back as the story goes, two soldiers of the Scottish army were captured outside of Carlisle,” Griffith said.
According to tradition and legend, the Scots believe that when you die, “your soul is whisked back to your home in Scotland, immediately,” he said.
“The commander of the prison where they were taken in Carlisle said to them ‘tomorrow you have a choice. One will live and one will be executed,’” Griffith said. “The song is about the soldier who decided to sacrifice his life for his friend. While that is a British story, I always remember it on Memorial Day, because it is the day that we pick to remember those men and women” who made the ultimate sacrifice, “so each and every one of us can have another day with our loved ones.”
Sgt. Raymond McMillian also was honored.
Turner said that McMillian’s remains had been identified when he served as mayor of the city.
“He will always be honored here,” Turner said, adding that the city organized 40 vehicles to escort the fallen soldier back to Martinsville from the Piedmont Triad International (PTI) Airport in Greensboro, N.C.
“I remember the guy working (at the airport) said that the last veteran that came in. There were only two vehicles and a hearse,” Turner said. “I said, we are not going to do that. We are going to treat him right.”
W.C. Fowlkes, who also helped organize the Memorial day event, offered remarks about McMillian.
“Sgt. McMillian was born in 1930 and he joined the military primarily to help his family at home. He went off just prior to the Korean War. He was a combat medic,” Fowlkes said. “I can only imagine what it would be like, for someone like him, who was probably at that time 20 years old.”
He said that McMillian was taken as a Prisoner of War after his unit was overcome by heavy fire. There’s no record of what happened to McMillian during this time, according to Fowlkes.
“I guess it was in late ‘89, early ‘90 that we received 208 massive boxes of remains,” Fowlkes said. “Through the Department of Defense and DNA technology, he was finally identified, I think, in 2014.”
Ronnie Ashby, who is a relative of McMillian’s, also spoke during the ceremony.
“When I was maybe eight or nine years old, Raymond was in service, and I remember him coming in one time on leave and being in uniform,” Ashby said. “I don’t have a lot of recollection of him other than that, but I do know that when I was growing up and after that, I’d go in over at mom’s, and sometimes she would be sitting there looking at pictures. She’d have a picture of Raymond out, in his uniform. I’d like for her, and family members, (and) others that have passed on, to be able to witness this, but that’s beyond our control.”
Veterans Service Organization Chairman S.T. Fulcher also helped Turner organize the service and provided remarks about the importance of Memorial Day as a whole.
Fulcher said that the origins of Memorial Day can be traced back to May 30, 1868, when women in the Confederacy instituted the observation during the Civil War. The day became an official holiday in 1971, he added.
“Our primary purpose is to honor and pay respects to those who have served our great country and are no longer with us,” Fulcher said.
He said there are certain requirements that go along with the organizations’ typical service, such as lowering the flag to half-mast which had been done prior to the service.
Magna Vista High School Band Director Kevin Lewis played the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Taps.”