In December, 1862, with the end of the Civil War nowhere in sight, President Abraham Lincoln in his second annual message to Congress stated succinctly what was at risk in that war’s outcome: “We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of Earth.”
Since that time until this very day, we have required young Americans to stand up and defend the freedoms that we often take for granted. In doing so, a great many of them had to pay the ultimate price and this Memorial Day weekend we honor them.
In doing so, it is important to think of them as more than simply rows of markers in an open field. They were instead average living individuals who were called upon by their country to do extraordinary things. My family, like many families, has one such young man and each year at this time I write to insure that he is not forgotten.
His name was Carl Harris Turner and he was my grandmother’s youngest – and favorite — brother. Uncle Carl was born in 1912 in Fort Valley, Georgia, and was fascinated with planes his entire life. When World War II broke out he joined the Army Air Corp and after training was shipped out to the European Theatre.
On August 22, 1944, Uncle Carl was a sergeant and flight engineer on a B-24 Liberator and was nearing his 50th combat mission when his plane took off for a bombing run over Blechhammer, Germany. According to reports from other plane crews that day, after completing their bombing run, Uncle Carl’s plane and crew came under intense anti-aircraft fire and one burst struck the plane’s left wing disabling an engine. Several crew members managed to parachute out of the plane but Uncle Carl was not one of them. Uncle Carl was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters.
Others have simply but eloquently stated that we did not go into battle in World War II to conquer but to liberate, and the only pieces of land we asked for in the end was enough to bury our dead heroes. Uncle Carl is buried in Belgium, a long way from his middle Georgia home. He died without a wife or children and has no legacy – except for the freedom that you and I enjoy because of his ultimate sacrifice.
I remember my grandmother’s eyes welling up with tears when she spoke of her beloved baby brother. Today, my mother is probably the last living person on this Earth who has a personal remembrance of Uncle Carl when he was alive, and the deep loss her family felt by his death. By reading this, however, you now join the human chain that extends this memory and the knowledge of his life.
I hope your family has a thoughtful Memorial Day weekend and remembers all who answered the call and paid the ultimate price for their country.