By Verna M. Myers
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
“For the Fallen,” a poem written by Laurence Binyon (1914), reminds us that “there is music in the midst of desolation…And a glory that shines upon our tears.” And so, it is, as we again celebrate Memorial Day, the federal holiday set aside to respectively honor and commemorate the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifices in any of the American wars. This holiday has evolved through numerous changes and is now stationarily celebrated on the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day gives pristine, provincial, and praiseworthy recognition to those men and women who shall forever be remembered. It was these soldiers – some who volunteered and others who were drafted – who left their homes and families to fight in wars to protect our freedom, our views, and our values. Therefore, we salute them with the accolades, praises, tributes, and awards they deserve.
On Memorial Day, soldiers’ graves are decorated with flowers and wreaths, flags are raised half staff until noon, parades are orchestrated in many cities, and poppies are symbolized around military gatherings. The goal for conducting these activities is to assure that the utmost awareness is provided to the public to assure remembrance of those men and women who gave their noble sacrifices.
However, as I prepare to celebrate Memorial Day by remembering the honorable men and women, my mind stimulates the pain that I experienced on May 11, 1969, when I was informed that my husband, Sgt. R.C. Myers, had been killed in action in Vietnam. So, Memorial Day constitutes a duel remembrance in my life. Unfortunately, the first few years were regarded as a “love-hate” observance, but time and maturity have changed that. Thank God I had a praying mother; and I am certain that God’s grace surrounded me because of her ecclesiastical conversations.
Immediately, I changed from a wild, 22-year-old to an angry “rebel” with a cause, and my life became a melodrama. Even though I was searching for stability, I was emotionally confused. Anger consumed my life because of the times in which I was involved. The nation was in the mist of the Civil Rights Movement – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated and campus unrest was all over.
In 1976, I journeyed to Monterey, California, and soon afterwards I met Charles Antrum. Because of his exhilarating, exciting, and elating character and personality, he became my best friend. Charles aided in turning my negative memories and painful experiences into comical, hilarious, and humorous events. No matter what I tried to share with him as a painful memory, he found the humor in that event and caused me to accept what was and view it differently.
As I celebrate this Memorial Day, joyously remembering the fallen soldiers, I celebrate the many constructive memories that are stored in my heart and my mind. First, I recall the day the Casualty Assistance Officers approached my home and said, “Are you Mrs. R.C. Myers, Mrs. Verna Myers?” I said, “Yes.” Then, they asked if I were alone and informed me to be seated. One officer then began his rehearsed announcement, “I have been asked by the U.S. Army to inform you that your husband, Sgt. R.C. Myers, has been killed in …” That was all I remember. Next, I remember lying in bed with my mother, Mrs. Dorothy Mannie, right by my bed sobbing, yet comforting me. Dr. Robert Smith had given me a shot and was giving my mother instruction about my expected behavior for the rest of the night.
I made it through the night, but I remember the next day was unimaginable and chaotic. First, friends and family were visiting and calling and crying. Secondly, I was scheduled to graduate from Jackson State University in eleven days. Somehow, I understood that if I did not “walk,” I would not receive a diploma. Believing that foolishness compelled me to reluctantly march to the cadence of “Pomp and Circumstance” and receive the one achievement I had labored so indefatigable for. However, without the inspiration, support, and reinforcement of my friends and “play brother,” Sherman Norwood, walking in that gymnasium, and down that aisle, would have been impossible. Then exactly two days later at Jerusalem Baptist Church in Brandon, MS, Spec. 4 Ricky Carl Myers was laid to rest.
Fifty years have gone by since the inception of a collection of memories that are worth remembering and are worth sharing with others. Please enjoy the humor as I do.
- I remember when Reverend Black arrived at my home and asked for a Bible, knowing I did not have one. I began sobbing and choking. He did not push the issue, and just moved on with prayer. What a relief! I soon purchased a Bible and placed it on the coffee table where it remains, even today.
- I recall during the “Wake”, one girl who I did not recognize, was taking this death so hard, I stop screaming and crying, and turned around to see just who this was. A few months later, I learned just who she was. Uncle Sam should have censored R.C.’s personal property before they sent it home.
- I remember the night after the “Wake”, Pastor Fred Black came to my home and informed us that we had screamed, yelled, cried, and had fallen on the casket enough to endure throughout the funeral; so we needed no more of the crying.
- I recall the day of the funeral. Harold Grant was singing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” He had the entire church yelling and screaming; but he would not stop singing after being asked by my aunt, Trilby Darty, to stop, so she pulled him down by his coat. Unfortunately, he kept singing.
- I recall the hearse and the funeral procession getting off the path somewhere down in the backwoods. A man was leaning under the hood working on his car, but when he looked up and witnessed the procession, he was perplexed, disconcerted, and amused.
- I remember soldiers posted behind trees awaiting the twenty-one-gun salute. When they fired the guns, people began running and yelling with fear. His mother screamed, “Them the guns that killed my boy,” and then fainted. My uncle, Reverend R.L. Williams, in humor, never allowed me to forget those words. He usually greeted me with that statement.
There is one other memory that is worth sharing because it evokes an account of an experience that took me a few years to remove the guilt from my heart. My husband had spent thirty days at home preparing for deployment to Vietnam. The night before he was to leave for Oakland, California, R.C. met with his friend, William Mills, and they took an unplanned, unknowing motorcycle ride to Pickens, Mississippi; and did not get home until 1:00 a.m. I had to work that night at Southern Bell Telephone Company and ended my shift at 9:00 p.m., expecting to be picked up by my husband; and to share an emotional and pleasant “last” night together. Around 1:00 a.m., upon his arrival, I was quite angry; and I immediately launched into an intense argument that was motivated by emotions and circumstances. Therefore, I spewed out very sharply and painful these words, “I hope you go to Vietnam and get killed.”
Needless to say, it took a special walk with God for me to overcome that guilt. I know it was God’s will and God’s plan to take my husband, for it was his time to depart from this world. Therefore, daily I thank God that my husband was killed while defending our country; and not while we were hanging out “across the river” or at the Elks, Stevens Kitchen, Duke Huddleston, The Magnolia Club, or The Blue Room.
His plan was designed for my benefit, because the military has been very good to me, and I thank God. There are so many memories that register in my mind on Memorial Day, but these are ones that produced humor in my soul. Paradoxically, Memorial Day has emerged to be one of my favorite holidays; and this Memorial Day will be no different. It begins with a special tribute to my husband and prayer and thanks to God. Then there is that phone call from my 36-year-old daughter, Renee Reyes, checking to see if I am doing fine and remembering R.C. (He was deceased approximately 15 years before her birth You do the math. It was not his child). She also wants to know what time we are going to Ridley Hill’s cemetery to place flags on the graves of some of our loved ones. Then, I sit patiently waiting from the phone call from Linda Love with her sincere appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice of my husband and all soldiers.
Before I become enthralled in the activities of placing flags, attending parades or enjoying a barbecue, I log on to Facebook to read the many tributes to the Fallen Soldiers – those men and women who so gallantly gave their all. Their losses can be remembered, but not measured, for no one knows exactly the effects that death have on individuals.
In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Silence Act to be observed at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day. So, at the picnic, I will pause for a moment of silence. Then, I will seize this opportunity to share with family and friends another feature of My Memorial Day plethora of remembrances.
In closing, I love that memories have blown between the crosses in life and memories have marked the places in between, just like the poppies grow in Flanders Field.