They will not be forgotten
“I’m going to ask everyone. Our Heroes are gone, but will they be forgotten?”
The wind whistling by the microphone, loudly flapping the somber field of 114 flags and causing faces to retreat into raised coat collars could not drown out the heartfelt response. Once he heard everyone’s shouted oath to remember, Mike Nuckolls, Past State Commander of the VFW, raised a trumpet to his lips. The sad melody of “Taps” was added to the thunder of the rushing wind.
Sunday, the opening ceremony of a week-long memorial event held at the VFW on Davis Drive in Searcy, marked a year’s worth of the Fallen Heroes Memorial Flag Field’s travels across the state. The event was marked by notable speakers, such as White County Judge Michael Lincoln who spoke about our freedoms preserved by those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Behind him stood the Arkansas National Guard, 153rd Infantry, as they presented the Colors.
The Fallen Heroes Memorial began when Ron Hopper’s son, Lieutenant Corporal Brian Chase Hopper, was killed in action in Iraq on Jan. 26, 2005. It took two years for Rolling Thunder Memorial Motorcycle Runs to raise the money to place a bronze field cross in Brian’s home town, Wynne. One bronze cross led to a wish to honor all fallen heroes with ties to Arkansas, and the Memorial Flag Field began to accompany the Memorial Runs.
Three “Gold Star” families attended today’s ceremony, tasked with setting their Fallen Soldier’s information plaque in front of his waiting flag. Ron Hopper set his son’s photo alone, stood back a moment with his head down, then led the families off the field.
“Around Christmas time, I try to have the Flag Field close to home,” said Hopper, “and this year, I think it will be set up right in my front yard.”
The field, he said, will then be visible to those driving by on the highway. It has been three weeks since he asked a local church to set the Flag Field there, but received no response. It is one part of his labor of love that he battles more often than he expected. Sometimes, it takes a lot of time to get permission.
After the last notes of “Taps” rang out and the tears dried from many eyes, the Guard retired the Colors and the crowd moved inside, out of the cold wind, to wrap hands around hot cups of coffee. A few minutes later, a loud whistle got everyone’s attention.
“I need to tell you a story,” started Hopper. “I don’t know how they get the names, but this company makes and sends to every family of a fallen Soldier an engraved, silver bracelet. When the family of Private William Long contacted the company to put their name on the list, they were told that since he was not killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, the family was not entitled to one.”
An outraged murmur spread through the room. Private William Long was killed by a drive-by shooter on June 1, 2009 in front of a recruiting center in Little Rock. The shooter was Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Muslim convert and a wannabe terrorist.
“He may not have been deployed overseas, but he was killed in the Global War on Terror,” Hopper continued. “For that reason, we ordered one made ourselves, and I would like to present this bracelet to his sister.”
Tears streamed down her face. “I don’t know what my mother will do when she sees this. I will give it to her at Christmas,” she said.
The events continue all week with the Arkansas Fallen Heroes Memorial Flag Field standing until it is taken down on Wednesday. Click here for the full schedule of events.
White County resident, freelance writer, photographer and blogger. Email her, visit her at A Bumpy Path and Out in the Back Yard for more neurotic enlightenment and visual stimulation.