East Texans Honor Soldiers At War

General Mike Taylor, 36th Infantry Division Commander with the Texas National Guard, just got back from his trip to Iraq.

He oversees the 56th Brigade Combat Team presently serving in Iraq.  That includes about 70 soldiers from the Lufkin area who've been overseas for about five months.

Despite the ongoing debate over whether or not the U.S. should be at war in the first place, General Taylor is proud of what he saw.

He says the relationship between American soldiers and Iraqi civilians is a good one. Civilians tend to make sure American troops are safe and secure while they're in combat.

"When there are bad guys that come in, the local civilians don't want them there and they tend to cooperate with the local multinational forces to make sure that they know they're not welcome, and do what it takes to get them out of there," said General Taylor.

The fight for freedom gets a lot of attention on Memorial Day, but those who've been on the front lines say our soldiers fight everyday. They should be honored everyday.

Ret. Lt. General Orren Whiddon said, "Memorial Day is the same, whether it's for those who have fallen or for those who are serving our country. Memorial Day serves to remember those who make our great country what it is, no matter what particular skill they serve in."

There's been plenty of bloodshed since the war started, but General Taylor says our troops are in good hands.

The sick call remains low, with less than 1 percent reporting to the clinic every day. The equipment readiness rate is above 95 percent, and non-battle injuries and illness are also surprisingly low.

General Taylor said, "They are rightfully proud. They're working long hard days. The day I stepped off the airplane over there to help the Iraqis was 124 degrees. They have adjusted well. They're well taken care of and all the indicators you look at to see if they're doing well are very positive."

As for the future of our troops, General Taylor says getting them back home safely is the top priority. In the meantime, several ceremonies and events are planned in their honor.

The annual Avenue of Flags went up Friday in Lufkin. The flags are on display through Memorial Day to honor soldiers who have served our country.

More than 75 flags can be seen throughout the Garden of Memories Memorial Park. Many of the flags were donated by families of veterans.

The Avenue of Flags started back in 1968. As usual, lots of people are expected to come by and view the flags over the holiday weekend.

In Lufkin, the Veterans of Foreign Wars will have a memorial service at the post Memorial Wall at 11:00 a.m. Monday. There will also be a fish fry and a dance later that afternoon.

In Nacogdoches, the Lufkin/Nacogdoches chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America will hold a Memorial Day ceremony on the courthouse lawn.

The ceremony begins at 10:00 a.m. Monday morning. The guest speaker will be Ret. Lt. General Orren "Cotton" Whiddon.