OUR OPINION: Honor the personal on Memorial Day

Today at Veterans Park in Tupelo and in many other communities around the state and nation, the memory of those who have died in military service to their country will be honored. The crowds won’t be what they should be, given the nature of the sacrifices being recalled, but these events are at the heart of what Memorial Day is all about.

The story of one such sacrifice is told in today’s Daily Journal and will be a part of the Tupelo observance. It’s about Maj. Charles Finney, a Saltillo native well-remembered for his leadership and character while growing up in Lee County. Finney, then known as Charles Campbell before he took on his adoptive father’s last name, joined the Marines at a time when the Vietnam War was accelerating and in 1969 was in a plane that went down over Laos.

For years he was listed as MIA, and for decades after he was officially pronounced dead no evidence of his remains was found. Then finally, a tooth was uncovered that was identified as his in the area his plane was thought to have crashed. His family was able to experience some degree of closure with a funeral with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery more than 30 years after his death.

Today, members of the family are in Tupelo because a stranger in South Dakota – a former Marine himself – wanted to know more about the man whose MIA bracelet he had come across. Fittingly, Charles Finney will be remembered today by those who knew him and those who know only the story of his sacrifice.

These kinds of stories are legion. We’ve all benefited from the sacrifices of U.S. service members through the centuries, but we often view them at a distance, almost abstractly. Yet for every U.S. serviceman or woman who has died, there is a family who has had to deal with that loss and the agonizing pain it entails. For every missing but unaccounted for service member, there are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and other family members left to wait and wonder for years, even decades.

It is wrong to think of these sacrifices – both by service members and their families – in the abstract. They must be personalized for us to truly know and appreciate what they mean.

The power of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, a replica of which is to be placed in Veterans Park if sufficient funds can be raised, is in that personalization. It’s a simple monument with tens of thousands of names of those who died in that war. One of those names is Charles Finney, and everyone else on there has his own story, too.