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Bob Stephens has never served in the U.S. Military, though he came close. During the turbulent 1960’s he watched many he knew ship off to Vietnam, including some that did not come back. On Monday afternoon he joined many others — some military men and women, others not — in paying tribute to those who laid down their lives for our nation’s freedom.

“I came out to support the veterans. They did a lot for this country and lots of them are continuing to do so,” Stephens, 75, of Groves said.

Stephens was a college student at the time of the Vietnam War draft, and would have served his country if his number had come up.

“I was just old enough they did not want me. I was 26 at the time, and that was their limit,” he said.

For the last three years he has attended the annual Memorial Day service at the Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park. It’s a time he remembers those who did serve, and those who lost their lives doing so.

“My best friend’s brother did not come home and two guys down the street did not come back,” he recalled.

Clarke C. Dubose was among those who did come back, and among those who attends the Memorial Day service each year to pay tribute to those military men and women who gave their lives fighting for their country.

Dubose, a soldier in the U.S. Army was the only son in his family. Because of that, he was sent to Korea, which was not as dangerous a battlefield as Vietnam in those days.

“I come here every year, it is very heartwarming,” he said noting that a lot of the World War II veterans are getting up in age.

“We may not see them next year,” he said.

This year, sitting front and center was one of the county’s few remaining World War II veterans.

Richard Walker, 95, of Port Neches, was a member of the U.S. Air Force, where he was on the ground crew working with the 305th Bomb crew, the B-17’s, he said.

“Everything I love is here,” he said of the Memorial Day service. “I love to come out here and meet with people who support the veterans. It is part of our freedom that we can do this, but we lost so many,” he said.

Park Director Bill Wells welcomed those in attendance while describing what he believes sets a veteran apart from others.

“Some say the measure of a men is what he has. Others say it what he gives away. I say it is what he sacrificed. We are gathered here today to honor those who gave everything they had. We refuse to let their memory fall off into a crack,” Wells said.

Guest speaker Col. Robert W. Gates, a highly decorated officer with the U.S. Marines, provided a brief history of the practice of honoring the war dead.

“One of the first public records of honoring fallen warriors was in 431B.C.,” he said

In 1868 a decree was issued to commemorate fallen warriors on Decoration Day.

Almost 100 years later, in 1967, the U.S. Congress renamed the holiday to what is now called Memorial Day.

“We are here today on this Memorial Day to express our gratitude,” he said.

Military warriors come from all walks of life, and have one thing in common: they all served in uniform for a cause greater than themselves as individuals.

“They all honored our nation’s call when it was critical,” Gates said.

So far, American has lost 1.1 million veterans to war, he said.

“We distinguish our fallen military men and women with honor and dignity,” Gates said.

E-mail: sherry.sturdivant@panews.com

Twitter: sgsturdivant