Memorial Day: Remembering, with a heavy, grateful heart


From William Ray Fullmer: “My nephew, Sgt. Derek Tillman Roberts, spilled his blood on the sands of Iraq to extend the right to live free to the people of the Middle East. On June 14, 2007, Derek was killed by a roadside bomb in Kirkuk, placed by those too cowardly to face him on the battle field. Derek, who was from Gold River, Calif., was 24. He served in the Army and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Derek’s bravery is and always will be a motivating force for us to rise to the call of those who desperately need our help to throw off the chains of oppression and cruelty.” (Photo courtesy of William Ray Fullmer) Read more.


The circumstances of their deaths are different. But the same words—”loyal,” “honorable,” “selfless,” “smart” and “fearless”—surfaced again and again this week when family and friends remembered the American military service members close to them who sacrificed their lives for their country.

Yahoo News invited readers to mark Memorial Day by sharing their memories. Below are excerpts from their stories, which we published this week.

Charles Leon Gilliland (Photo courtesy of Deb Cooper)Tales of young bravery: Decades after Charles Leon Gilliland died in battle in Korea, his sister-in-law still felt guilty about his death.

Gilliland, just 17 when he was killed in 1951, had written her letters asking for bullets for his pistol. She didn’t send them, fearing it would land her in trouble. According to Deb Cooper, who shared her Uncle Charles’ story, her mother never forgave herself when she learned that Gilliland’s last moments were spent fighting with a knife because he lacked ammunition.

Here, from Cooper, is more about Gilliland, the youngest Korean War Medal of Honor recipient:

Uncle Charles loved playing Army as a child and always owned a gun. At 16, he tried to join the Marines, but he was turned away due to his age. My grandparents allowed Charles to join the Army on May 25, 1950, his 17th birthday.

I did not realize how important Uncle Charles was to my family and our nation. I was born 10 years after his death, and I did not always understand his heroics. Now, there are reminders everywhere in north-central Arkansas where he was born and lived: Memorials at the Baxter County Court House, a bridge crossing in Yellville, and the National Guard Center in Harrison are just a few.

In 1997, the USNS Gilliland was dedicated in his name. His official memorial is in Hawaii.

My mother and my grandmother told me stories of his bravery when I was a child. He was a young soldier, in the Army less than a year, when he stayed behind to let his platoon retreat to safety. He was never seen again.

Read more and see more photos.

Peter Guenette (Photo courtesy of David Harland Rousseau)A soldier’s protective instincts: Peter Guenette, a specialist fourth class, served in Company D in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. On May 18, 1968, he was about to fly to Hawaii for some R&R when he was bumped from the flight by a higher-ranking soldier serving in the rear echelon. Instead of sunning himself on a tropical beach, he was again on the front lines.

David Harland Rousseau, whose father served with Guenette in Vietnam, shares his story:

The men of Company D were closing in on a suspected enemy base camp in Quan Tan Uyen. Heavy fire from entrenched North Vietnam Army regulars rained down on the Screaming Eagles.

Peter and three other soldiers took cover in a shell hole and returned fire. Suddenly, an enemy grenade rolled into the crater between the soldiers. Without hesitation, Peter shouted a warning and covered the grenade with his body. He died instantly, but his selfless actions saved the lives of three men.

Sp4c. Guenette posthumously received the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his wife, Susan, by President Richard Nixon in April 1970.

Peter had a protective instinct that revealed itself in all he did—right until the last full measure.

Read more and see more photos.

Ada and Clarence’s engagement photo; Ada receives Clarence’s Purple Heart. (Photos courtesy of Nannette Gilber …

Honoring a long-lost uncle and soldier: Clarence Reed served in the U.S. Army in France during World War II and died on April 7, 1945, shortly before V-E Day. His grandniece, Nannette Gilbert, didn’t know she even had a Great Uncle Clarence until her great aunt, Ada Strausbaugh, died in 2011. Reed had been Ada’s first husband, and while it wasn’t a family secret that her great aunt was on her second marriage, Gilbert says, it was just something no one spoke of.

After her great aunt’s death, Gilbert learned more about her Great Uncle Clarence:

Aunt Ada and Clarence were married on April 17, 1944, in Gallipolis, Ohio. Clarence, who was from Dexter, Ohio, joined the Army and was stationed in France during World War II. He didn’t survive the war and died on April 7, 1945, less than a year after Ada and Clarence married.

They had no children together, and my aunt had no children in her second marriage. Since my grandmother was her closest relative, and my mother is already passed away, I inherited a large box of pictures and memorabilia after my aunt’s death. Among those items, I found the marriage license, death notice, pictures and letters that Ada and Clarence mailed back and forth to each other as well as supporting documents for the Purple Heart that Clarence received posthumously and which was presented to Ada. She was buried with Clarence’s Purple Heart.

It pains me to know that on Memorial Day almost 70 years after his death, I may be the only one left honoring his memory. I’ve tried to find distant relatives on his side of the family to no avail. So this year, and from now on, I will honor my Great Uncle Clarence Reed, who served his country and gave his life during World War II.

Read more and see more photos.

Cpl. Jennifer M. Parcell (Photo courtesy of V. Wync Yarber)

‘You are loved and you are greatly missed’: During a deployment to Iraq as part of the Marines’ Lioness Program, Cpl. Jennifer M. Parcell was killed by a female suicide bomber at a checkpoint in Anbar province on Feb. 7, 2007. She was just three weeks from returning to her base in Okinawa, Japan.

V. Wync Yarber, the Marine who assigned Parcell to the detachment, remembers her:

She didn’t cast an imposing shadow at about 115 pounds and around 5 foot 4 inches tall, but she was every bit that hard-nosed Marine that you hear about.

I can remember when I first laid eyes on Jennifer M. Parcell. I remarked to one of my colleagues, “Is this Bring Your Little Sister to Work Day?” She barely looked old enough to have enlisted.

However, I was to find out that she was tough and had the ability to raise the performance of the Marines, or whomever, she was around. She didn’t back away from a challenge and didn’t complain when things didn’t go exactly as planned. Whenever she heard her fellow Marines complaining, she would often admonish them by saying, “You guys sound like a bunch of little girls! … SUCK IT UP!”

Though there have been many memorials dedicated to Parcell, and I even wear a bracelet on my left wrist commemorating her, I would much rather have her present, here on this planet. She was only 20 when she was whisked away from us.

So here is to Cpl. Jennifer Marie Parcell. You are loved and you are greatly missed.

Read more and see more photos.

Spc. Charles Odums II (Photo courtesy of Joseph Estrada)

A promising young man: It was 4 a.m. on Memorial Day 2004 when Joseph Estrada, an Army physician assistant with the 1-8 Cavalry, learned that a bomb had killed one of his medics, Spc. Charles Odums II, the night before. Odums, who was the battalion’s first fatality during its yearlong tour, had saved another solder’s life just a week earlier.

Estrada, who saw Odums as a younger version of himself, remembers that Memorial Day:

Later that morning, many in the unit gathered in an eerie silence near the morgue to pay their respects. I stood alone, preferring to mourn in solitude. Others embraced, some consoled others and some discreetly wiped tears under dark sunglasses.

On cue, we formed a line between the morgue and the ambulance. Four medics entered the building to retrieve the stretcher carrying our fallen comrade. Someone called out commands as the litter bearers emerged with our friend’s remains. Restrained sobs filled the air. With the ambulance loaded, we filed past its back doors, each pausing briefly for one last moment with our hero.

After the convoy had left, we huddled up once more as Sgt. Kortney Clemons led us in prayer. We eventually dispersed to spend a very somber, reflective Memorial Day remembering our departed brother.

I remember his asking me about children after learning that I had five; he was in a young marriage and “needed some tips.” I remember discussing his future plans; he was a promising young man.

Spc. Odums gave my life new focus, new perspectives, and a new appreciation for the little things. Even his death gave new meaning to Memorial Day. On May 31, 2004, and on every subsequent Memorial Day, with a heavy but grateful heart, I cry for my fallen brothers and sisters, and I thank them.

Read more.

Read more Memorial Day tributes:

On Memorial Day, a ‘thank you’ to a man I never met

Remembering Pfc. Cody Eggleston, the class clown of infantry school

Honoring a great uncle—and military hero

‘I discovered what it meant to lose a brother in arms’

Letters, photos detail lovesick, short-lived Vietnam-era romance

On Memorial Day, recalling the exceptional Ricky Hafer

My personal heroes: my papa and Uncle Paul

Marine Staff Sgt. Jay T. Collado is a Memorial Day herowar vets