Veterans Honored on Memorial Day

Many Angelina County veterans traveled the world while serving in all branches of the armed forces and this Memorial Day, they honored their fellow soldiers who have either passed on or didn't make it out of combat alive.

The former troops placed flags on the graves of military servicemen buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery, including Johnnie Jones, the first black soldier to hold the rank of Sergeant Major.

Elijah Thomas was drafted into the U.S. Army when he was just 18 years old. He earned several bronze stars and World War II medals and still proudly carries his certificate of honorable discharge. Now 84, his memories of the two years he spent in the service are as clear as his days in battle.

Thomas said, "I came over on the 12th of June and we went all the way through France. I landed in Normandy and went all the way to Germany - to Berlin."

Memorial Day is set aside to recognize, appreciate, and pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives during battle. But some veterans believe one day of honor and remembrance is not good enough for our soldiers.

U.S. Army veteran, James Goolsby said, "We ought to do it every day, every week; something that lets their families know how much we appreciated the work that they did."

About 90 percent of the veterans buried in Cedar Grove cemetery are African-American. Many of the older soldiers said a lot of their fellow servicemen did not consider them equals because of the color of their skin.

"I had war on my mind, I didn't pay it no mind," said Thomas. "I didn't see no color when I got there. I forgot all about I was black, but I'm happy that I went over - God brought me back home."

Thomas landed in Europe around D-day while his fellow world War II soldier, Willie Coleman, landed in the Pacific. Their military experiences were different, but their pride in the country they fought for is the same.

The historic soldiers believe the armed services now offer better opportunities for black soldiers - opportunities to protect America and make sure its citizens remain free.

The Cedar Grove Memorial Day ceremony is an annual tribute to fallen veterans. About 150 U.S. flags were placed on the graves of soldiers buried in that cemetery.

Many East Texas soldiers were also honored in the annual Garden of Memories tribute.

Large U.S. flags wave proudly at the entrance of the cemetery, while smaller American flags are placed on the graves of fallen troops.

Despite the ongoing debate over whether or not our country's current overseas battle is justified, the loved ones of military veterans said Memorial Day should be set aside to honor our soldiers' courage, strength, and will to fight for our freedom.