Thoughts on Memorial Day

In last Monday’s edition, staff writer Dave Gossett wrote about Milton Fabianich and the Weirton Last Man’s Club.

It was a fitting story as we prepare to mark Memorial Day on Monday.

Fabianich, 85, is the last living member of the club, which was formed in 1956 by a group of World War II veterans. When he and a few friends gathered at the Weirton American Legion on Sunday night, he gave a toast and read the names of the 94 members who have died since the club was established.

It was a moment that is being repeated in cities and towns all across the country.

Last man’s clubs are nothing new – they’ve been around for hundreds of years, and have been formed by the members of many groups and organizations. Sadly, though, the clubs that are drawing the most attention these days are those that were formed by those who served in World War II.

In Monday’s edition, we’ll offer another story, a much sadder story, of those who have served when staff writer Mark Miller provides an update to the story of Navy Corpsman Ronald J. Manning, who grew up in Toronto and lost his life in the waning days of the Vietnam War. Manning, who was 21 at the time, and 13 other serviceman were killed in May 1975 during an attempt to rescue the crew of the S.S. Mayaguez, a merchant ship that had been hijacked by Khmer Rouge naval forces in the Gulf of Thailand.

The son of Donna and James Manning was listed as missing in action until his remains were identified by the Navy in 2000, returned to the Gem City to a hero’s welcome and buried in Toronto’s Union Cemetery. Additional remains were returned to Toronto in April 2012.

On May 15 of this year, additional remains of Manning and 12 other servicemen who lost their lives in that rescue attempt, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Both stories are very important for area residents, Manning’s because it speaks to the realities of war and is a reminder that many have paid the ultimate sacrifice while in service to our country, and Fabianich’s because he is able to recall war in the way that only a survivor can.

And that’s what makes the stories shared by all of the remaining survivors of World War II important now, more than ever.

You see, we’re running out of time to hear them.

According to the Veterans Administration, those who served in World War II are dying at a rate of about 600 a day. Assuming that that trend continues, the statistics indicate that by 2036 the last person who served in the war will be gone. When that day comes, we will have lost the ability to ever hear again what it was like to actually serve our country during the early 1940s, what it was like to actually face Axis or Imperial Japanese forces.

Hopefully, the stories of Fabianich and Manning will serve as reminders to residents around the Tri-State Area that while the Memorial Day weekend has become a time for many to sit back and relax with a cold beverage, cook some food on the grill, listen to a baseball game or watch an auto race, it’s also a time for everyone to remember those who served and those who gave their lives, and to pray for the safety of all who remain in harm’s way in service to the United States.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is the executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)