Do You Remember When…?

Nearly a year ago, I had the privilege to participate in the production of a video highlighting some of the history, heritage and heroes of my hometown – an experience I will never forget. While I am familiar with many of the stories, it was an opportunity for me to gain new perspectives, to learn things I didn’t know, to reacquaint myself with names and faces of the past, to make new connections, and to deepen my appreciation for family, friends and neighbors.

Throughout this incredible project, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to turn and say, “Do you remember when…?” and we’d take a moment to add our own personal accounts of the particular event in question, laugh, or sit in reverent silence and wipe a tear from our cheek. While we managed to secure nearly 70 minutes-worth of programming, there remain many untold stories. In fact, we could no doubt return and produce a few more volumes about our small, coal-mining town.

On this Memorial Day, I will visit the graveside of my grandparents, family, friends, and neighbors. I will see familiar names, recall fond memories and ask myself, “Do you remember when…?” I’ll think about those people, places, and times. I’ll laugh and I’ll wipe a tear from my eye. Unfortunately, there are things I won’t remember, only because I wasn’t around when they took place. I only “remember” because these are the stories passed down to us from the previous generations.

I wasn’t there with Private First Class Thomas Greene and his medical detachment as the US Army’s 89th Division rolled into Germany only to discover the horrors and atrocities of hatred and evil carried out in those “camps.” I wasn’t there as his comrades were gunned down, anguishing in pain, gasping for their last breath, and calling out the name of their beloved as he bandaged their wounds and gave them their last ampule of morphine.

I wasn’t there with Paul Rhoades, who stayed behind to work the deep mines of west-central Pennsylvania to support the industrial efforts of a nation at war. I wasn’t there as he entered the mine looking for missing workers, pulling crushed bodies from the tons of coal and slate rock that fell from the mountains above and restoring the electrical system so the coal could be moved to produce steel, metals, and energy necessary to manufacture ammunition, artillery and planes.

I wasn’t there as Ethel Greene took her young daughter and moved to the family farm, awaiting her husband’s return from the European battlefields. I wasn’t there as she and her family worked from the dark, wee-morning hours until the late evenings, growing and processing their own food and preparing for the winter to come.

 I wasn’t there as Elizabeth Rhoades cared for her children, washed the laundry, stretched out the rations to make another meal, and patched the clothes for another day of wear. I wasn’t there when she wondered if her husband would survive the dangers of the earth below or if an illness would take her child.

Do I remember when…? No, but I do remember those who were part of a generation that was right for their time – just when America needed them the most. These were the ones who taught us the values of faith, patriotism, hard work, perseverance, and devotion. These were the faces of those who would sacrifice everything, so generations to come would owe nothing. These are the men and women who gave their very lives; sweat, tears, and blood, so we could know a brighter future. These are the memories I do not recall, but will forever remember.

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

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