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Wreaths Across America ceremony remembers the fallen, and one mother who lost her son in Iraq always attends

December 16, 2018

Seven wreaths went up Saturday at the Roseburg National Cemetery Annex at the annual Wreaths Across America event commemorating the veterans who died for their country, along with prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Relatively sparse attendance at this year’s ceremony may have been due to the cold weather. But one woman sitting quietly in the second row said she never misses it.

Thirteen years ago, Darlene Moore’s son U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. James Moore was the first of Douglas County’s sons to die in Iraq after 9/11.

After the ceremony, Darlene Moore and others laid many wreaths on the graves of the fallen. She laid one for her son and one for her father-in-law. They’re buried side by side at the old Roseburg National Cemetery on West Harvard Avenue.

It’s people like her who have borne the true cost of war, and no ceremony can give her back what she’s lost. James Moore, like many young men, entered the military for idealistic reasons. He was deeply affected by the 9/11 attack, Darlene Moore said.

Moore didn’t want her only son to join the military. She told him she’d need him to take care of her in her old age — to no effect.

“He couldn’t wait to get over there. That’s the way boys are,” she said.

Moore died Jan. 26, 2005, when his helicopter was caught in a sandstorm. He was 25 — killed when his mother still thought of him as a boy.

“You know how boys play Army, play war. He wanted to protect his family. He didn’t want the war to come to (his niece’s) backyard,” she said.

She recalled that when the Marines came to her door to inform her of her son’s death, she lost it. She kicked them, but they just stood at attention, tears in their eyes. She couldn’t accept it. But the Marines remained for eight days to help them through the transition. Later, she thanked them.

Even now, laying a wreath at her son’s grave, she said she felt like she was going to have a heart attack. She could feel her heart pumping and her hands were wet.

She’ll be back at the grave again on Christmas Eve. Every year the family places candles at the graves of James and his grandfather James Alvin Moore. Usually it’s foggy, and the light illuminates the fog.

It’s pretty, but it doesn’t bring him back. Neither does the ceremony, but she’ll be here every year, nonetheless.

“It’s very important to come to show your support and your patriotism,” she said.

Alek Skarlatos, the Army National Guard veteran who became famous for his part in thwarting a would-be terrorist on a Paris-bound train in 2015, delivered the keynote speech at Saturday’s ceremony.

“We are gathered here today at this memorial site and memorial sites across America to remember that we are one nation with one flag. We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society made up of many people, many races and many walks of life. The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear,” he said.

He said the United States was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality.

“Our nation stands as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom to the world. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free,” he said.

After he spoke, veterans came forward to set seven wreaths representing each branch of the military, including the Merchant Marines and prisoners of war and those missing in action.

World War II veterans George Insley and George Burson were rolled up in wheelchairs but set wreaths nonetheless, with a little assistance. Burson, who’s 97 and a half, is an Air Force veteran. He said after the ceremony that he finds the event impressive. As a pilot during the war, Burson was shot down over Germany and lived in a prisoner of war camp until he was rescued nine months later by the Russians. As he laid the wreath, he remembered those left behind.

“I was thinking about my bomber crew,” he said.

Phyllis Poe, his significant other, accompanied him at the ceremony, along with Bikers for Christ member Don Garino. Poe said they are very patriotic.

“When I go to a parade and see somebody who won’t stand for the flag I get so mad I go tell them,” she said.

Daniel Rice laid the wreath for the Merchant Marines. He said he’s glad that branch is included. The Merchant Marines had many casualties during World War II but weren’t recognized as veterans until 1988.

“It’s moving, it’s very moving to be on these hallowed grounds like this and to pay respects to those that have gone before us,” Rice said.

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