Flagler Beach, FL (May 30, 2021) When you’ve been in charge of the European theater for the United States Army with more than 60,000 troops under your command, it’s hard to fathom that those lost could be known by name, but there was nary a dry eye as U.S. Army (retired) Lieutenant General Dr. Mark Hertling recounted the names and stories of those who never made it home, during the City of Flagler Beach’s Memorial Day ceremony on Sunday morning.
With a biography that seemingly took Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston longer to read than Hertling’s speech, it wasn’t his list of titles that was the most impressive thing about his presence. It was his determination to remember and honor those he served with that were lost on his watch.
Less than a minute into his address Hertling choked up while sharing the dying words from Tom Hanks’ character in the World War II-based movie “Saving Private Ryan” urging the young man to ‘earn this’, before heart-wrenchingly repeating the words Private Ryan would ask his wife decades later as they stood in the military cemetery in Normandy.
‘Tell me I’m a good man.’
Adults in attendance could be seen openly wiping tears as Hertling called them by name. One by one. They weren’t just numbers or statistics, they were people. Each one with a family, a story, a purpose.
“That line has struck me more as I get older”, shared Hertling of Private Ryan’s entreaty to his wife, while opening an old wooden cigar box that carries more than 250 cards with the faces and names of those who paid the ultimate price under his command.
“These are all soldiers who were lost on the battlefield,” Hertling said.
“They are America’s best and on today especially, I want to remember them, as I do every day, because I open this box every single day and pray for these young men and women, but I wanted to share some of them with you, because the pictures in this box I think represent America’s diversity, America’s strength.”
20 African American soldiers, 17 Hispanic soldiers, 5 women, he began as he shared the personal stories of each life lost.
“I could tell you the stories of all 253 of these individuals but I won’t. There are too many names, too many faces, to many dreams, hopes, lives and loves taken way too early from us. Too many spouses, family members, children and friends still missing them today.”
Reflect. Remember. Rededicate. Earn This. Make It Matter.
While attendance was light, the impact of his words was heavy and Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy struggled to read the chosen poem “Like Father, Like Son” and card sent on behalf of the Flagler Woman’s Club after Hertling’s keynote speech.
“This Memorial Day we pay tribute to the great men and women who sacrificed their lives in the name of our country. Each had their own story, no two alike, as we just heard, but they served as one to protect our great nation and our freedoms,” said Mealy, before Flagler Beach City Manager William Whitson closed the ceremony with Taps.
“Like Father, Like Son” by Douglas McGuire
Tyler James was just a baby when his daddy died in Nam.
He was raised by a sister and a hard working mom.
He was raised to love his country, and every time he saw the flag.
He thought of his father, and how he gave all that he had.
When Tyler finished high school he found a good job.
He helped his mom and sister, because he knew that times were hard.
Little did they know the world was to change,
Yeah, buildings came down by men in hijacked planes.
Tyler hugged his mom and sister and headed out the door.
His country would respond, he knew there would be war.
He enlisted in the service, they made him a strong man, after basic training, he was sent to a foreign land.
Oh, he served with the bravest.
They were proud and they stood tall.
Some of them had fathers whose names are on the wall.
After many months of battle Tyler’s mother got the call,
Tyler James, her only son, took his final fall.
On a hillside in the country, now lies Tyler James.
And his mother spoke the words, engraved beneath his name.
HE WAS PROUD OF HIS COUNTRY HE WOULD FIGHT UNTIL WE WON.
HE WAS KILLED IN BATTLE, LIKE FATHER LIKE SON.
Tyler James was just a baby, when his daddy died in Nam.