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On Memorial Day, families remember those who died, those who survived

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 26, 2013, at 6:23 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, May 23, 2014, at 8:28 a.m.

How to help Operation Freedom Memorial

What: Operation Freedom Memorial Foundation Inc., a nonprofit formed to raise money for a memorial in Wichita’s Veterans Memorial Park for Kansans who have lost their lives in the fight against terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001. Names of those who have died will be engraved on black granite panels.

Pavers: Purchase a commemorative paving stone for $100 to honor anyone who is serving in the military or has served at any time in the past. The pavers will contain the person’s name, rank, branch of service, years served and a line for a personal message.

For more information: To purchase a paver or make a donation, write to Operation Freedom Memorial Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 782414, Wichita, KS 67278, or go to www.ofm-ks.com.

Memorial Day events

Wichita

Veterans Memorial Park, 339 N. Veterans Parkway, 8 a.m. Monday. The Air Capital Detachment of the Marine Corps League will conduct a Memorial Day program, beginning with the raising of the flag promptly at 8 a.m. The program will last approximately 45 minutes; all veterans and the public are invited.

Greenwood Cemetery, 6231 W. 47th St. South, 11 a.m. Monday. The Rev. Greg Smith of Central Community Church will lead the services. Featured music will be from the World War I era. Assisting in the services will be the Tornado Alley Young Marines, the Air National Guard and VFW Post 6957 Ritual Team.

Lakeview Cemetery and Funeral Home, 12100 E. 13th St., 10 a.m. Monday. Service; cemetery will have an Avenue of Flags.

Resthaven Mortuary & Cemetery, 11800 W. Kellogg, 11 a.m. Monday. Events include a flyover of the Jayhawk Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. Featured speakers include Rep. Mike Pompeo and Col. Charles Carlton.

White Chapel Memorial Gardens, 1824 N Oliver, 8 a.m. Monday. Members of the Arthur Gossett American Legion Post 273 will be at Gossett’s grave to pay tribute to those who served, sacrificed and fell in battle for freedom. After the service, the post will hold a Memorial Day breakfast from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the post, 1335 N. Hydraulic; $5.

Augusta

Elmwood Cemetery, 501 E. 12th Ave., 9 a.m. Monday. Service includes presentation of colors and wreath. Guest speaker is Kelly Herzet, Butler County sheriff. In case of inclement weather, a shortened program will be held at the National Guard Armory in Augusta.

Winfield

Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery, 1311 World War II Memorial Drive, 10 a.m. Monday. Guest speaker is Jim Buterbaugh, vice chairman of the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs. There will be a wreath-laying ceremony by the Winfield American Legion Post No. 10 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 3544. The Winfield City Band will provide music.

Fort Riley

Events start at 11:40 a.m. Monday near the main post complex. Maj. General Paul Funk, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, and Command Sgt. Maj. Miguel Rivera, the senior enlisted soldier in the division, will lead the services. Fort Riley, as well as other major military installations, will have a 21-gun salute at noon followed by the playing of the national anthem and the flag flown at full staff.

Martin Harding never served in the military, but he has a passion for supporting those who have, or are in uniform now.

Some of those are in his family.

His grandfather, Jack, a Pearl Harbor survivor, served in World War II and during the Korean War. His father, John, served during the Vietnam War. His son, Brad, is in the Air Force and is stationed in California.

To honor them, Martin and his siblings are buying three commemorative paving stones for the Operation Freedom Memorial being developed for Veterans Memorial Park near downtown Wichita.

The memorial’s black granite panels will list the names of all Kansans killed since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, including those lost during Desert Storm and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of dead now stands at 92.

But the pavers, sold for $100 each, are for honoring all military veterans or those who are currently serving. Jack, John and Brad span three generations of service.

“I want to honor them for serving and fighting for our freedom,” said Martin, a medical technologist at Wesley Medical Center.

Actually, the family has veterans that extend far beyond the three men.

“I have ancestors who were in the Civil War on both sides,” John said. “I’m sure glad they missed shooting each other.”

As the nation gathers Monday for Memorial Day to honor those who have died while serving in the military, thoughts also turn to the experiences of those who have survived the wars. Jack Harding had one of the family’s most storied histories in uniform.

“But he was reluctant to talk about the war for many, many years,” John said. “I told him I’d like to know so I can tell the grandkids.”

His father shared some of those details before he died in 2004.

Jack Harding, who grew up in Eureka, joined the Navy in 1938 at the age of 20. He was serving on the USS Maryland when it was moored next to the USS Oklahoma along Pearl Harbor’s battleship row on Dec. 7, 1941.

A gunner’s mate at the time, Jack found himself in the middle of the fight when the Japanese attacked that morning. The Oklahoma took the brunt of the hits from torpedoes and bombs, eventually rolling over; more than 400 crew members died.

Some of the Oklahoma’s crew climbed aboard the Maryland. Although the Japanese reported the Maryland had been sunk after being struck by two bombs, the ship made it to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repairs on Dec. 30.

Jack spent the rest of the war serving on a destroyer, the USS J.R.Y. Blakely, chasing German submarines and taking part in the North Africa campaign. He spent the Korean War stateside, left the Navy after putting in 20 years and eventually moved his family to Mulvane while working at Boeing.

John served in the Navy from 1965 to 1969, working in intelligence gathering as part of the war in Vietnam. Decades later, his security clearance still prevents him from discussing specifics.

“The called us spooks,” said John, who spent his post-military career working for Southwestern Bell.

Brad broke ranks with family tradition and joined the Air Force a year ago, but he followed his father in that he’s being trained in intelligence work.

“There’s really not much I can talk about,” Brad said.

But he’s thrilled to talk about why he’s in the Air Force.

“I wanted to serve my country and have better job opportunities,” said Brad, who was going to Wichita State University and working full time when he enlisted. He and his wife, Kayla, are expecting their first child in September.

“I wanted to focus all my efforts on one thing,” he added.

While growing up, he heard stories from his grandfather, great-uncles and cousins about their service time.

“I always came away with a positive attitude about serving in the military,” Brad said. “It was a source of pride.”

And now he’ll have his name on a paver alongside those of his grandfather and great-grandfather at the memorial.

“I haven’t served as much they have,” Brad said. “Just to be included is really cool.”

Anita Dixon, whose son, Army Sgt. Evan Parker, was killed in Iraq in 2005, began working on the Operation Freedom Memorial in 2010. Funds have been raised for the $233,000 project to pay for the sculpture, the granite panels, engraving and just about everything else.

About $45,000 is still needed – including $25,000 to start construction and $17,000 for sidewalks and the required donation for ongoing maintenance for all memorials built at Veterans Memorial Park, said John Wilson, executive vice president of the nonprofit that Dixon created to build the memorial. The site has space for 700 pavers, and 200 have been sold, he said.

“We hope to have it built by this fall,” Wilson said.

For John Harding, he’s grateful family members thought about buying the pavers.

“I’m glad to see patriotism is still hanging tough with my grandkids and kids,” he said. “This country is never short of patriotism.”

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or at rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickplumlee.

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