“One tree can start a forest / One smile can begin a friendship / One hand can lift a soul / One word can frame the goal / One candle can wipe out darkness / One laugh can conquer gloom / One hope can raise your spirits / One touch can show you care / One life can make the difference / be that One today.” ~ Unknown
Today they held a ceremony for a memorial bridge in Morgan County (on Hwy 191 near Caney) dedicated to my uncle Ralph Paul Terry killed in Vietnam in 1969. He died the day after my 4th birthday. Afterward, some of the family went to the bridge since most of us had not yet seen the sign. The structure itself is to be replaced in the next several years, but the signs are already in place and will of course remain after the new bridge is installed.
Mom and dad were part of the ceremony as DAV members, and dad spoke on behalf of the family. The Terry family is large (14 children to Hazel Prater and Thornton Terry [in photo]). Doubling up in beds was common. Younger brother Ralph Paul was dad’s bed mate for a long time, and I’m told he thought it was really something to share with his older brother to whom he looked up.
There were quite a few people in attendance at the ceremony held in the Fiscal Court room housed in the old WPA School fully restored after the tornado. Friends of the family, old school mates of my aunts and uncles, county and state officials, newspaper and local TV station personnel were all represented.
There were a few people whose presence at the ceremony were critical, none more so than my uncle Phillip. He was stationed in Thailand at the time of Paul’s death, and thus charged with identifying the body and escorting him back home. By 1969, the American people were nasty about the war, taking out their frustrations against the government on returning servicemen. Both dad, leaving service in 1965, and Phillip experienced personal atrocities of this nature, the details of which are so horrific I can’t bear to write them down. Despite this, they remain two of the most loyal American men you’ll ever meet. I’m glad that we as a society learned from the Vietnam veteran’s experience and now regard our service men and women with the respect they deserve. When I hear criticisms against our military exuberance I pray for enlightenment. Those folks must have no first hand concept of what men like dad and Phillip endured, or if they do, they just have no compassion and need prayers even more. I may not (and frankly do not) agree with America’s needless wars of late, but I would never hold that against anyone who serves our country or misdirect those feelings against the institution of service to country. That we have an all volunteer service is itself assurance of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, whether combat is involved or not. <steps off soapbox>
The other person that really needed to be at the ceremony was Paul’s widow, Nila (above with mom). Paul loved her very much and it was clearly mutual. They were married only a short time, but as I understand it, they’d been high school sweethearts. As a child, I thought they individually, and as a couple, hung the moon. I’m so thankful they cemented their relationship before he left. It allowed her to stay in our lives all these years, and I still call her my aunt, because she is. It was a great day to remember the goodness of Ralph Paul. Even through the tears there was nothing but love and thankfulness among us. What a gift he was.