America’s fallen veterans need people who will stand up for them and make sure their stories of sacrifice are never forgotten.
Doran Hopkins of Summerville, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, made this point in compelling fashion Monday during an address at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Summerville Cemetery.
“There is a story with each flag (at a cemetery headstone),” he said.
Hopkins was a voice of his family’s military legacy Monday, recounting stories of courage, loss and uncommon honor dating back to the Spanish American War of 1899-1901. Hopkins’ grandfather, who lived in Imbler, fought in the war for the U.S. Army. He was not injured in the war in the Philippines, but he paid a lifelong price.
“My grandfather (Benjamin Franklin Hopkins) came home and lived with the effects of malaria and dysentery the rest of his life. He received a disability payment for his service in the jungles,” Doran said.
Benjamin Franklin Hopkins and Mary Ann (Green) Hopkins had four sons who served in World War II, and two were killed in action: Frank, a National Guardsman in the U.S. Army, and Earl, a U.S. Marine.
Frank Hopkins was sent to Australia where he served from 1942 to 1945. He was part of campaigns in New Guinea during this time where the Allies were protecting Australia from an invasion by Japanese forces.
“He was badly wounded in June of 1944 and evacuated to a hospital in Australia. He wrote a letter to one of his brothers stating that he did want to return home because his face was badly disfigured,” Doran said.
Frank, who received a Purple Heart, later accompanied his unit to the Philippines where he was killed in action in March of 1945. The pain of his death was magnified for his family by how close he came to returning home alive.
“He was the last casualty of his unit and it was the last time his unit fought in action,” Doran said.
Earl Hopkins, a La Grande High School graduate, also fought in the Pacific during WWII. He was badly wounded in Saipan in July of 1944. He survived the war only to be killed in the Korean Conflict during the battle of Chosin Reservoir in late 1950.
Frank and Earl Hopkins are buried side by side at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Doran said his grandparents’ third son in combat was Olin Hopkins, a graduate of Imbler HIgh School. He served as a medic aboard an aircraft carrier, the Belleau Wood in the Pacific. Olin was never seriously injured, but a horrific incident exacted a psychological toll that he struggled to come to grips with.
He explained that Olin’s ship was once hit by a Japanese Kamikaze plane, igniting an oil fire and causing numerous injuries. A large piece of equipment fell on one man’s leg, preventing him from being able to escape an approaching fire on deck.
“Olin cut off the man’s leg to save his life,” Doran said. “Later in life, Olin once asked me with tears in his eyes whether he should have cut off the man’s leg.”
Doran said he tried his best to comfort him.
“I answered, ‘You saved the man’s life.’ Imagine the pain these veterans brought back with them,” he said.
Doran said he vividly remembers having Sunday dinners at this grandparents’ house during WWII and hearing them talk about whether their sons were safe.
“I was too young to understand the anguish these people must have endured,” he said.
Doran told of how his aunt’s husband, Bill Furman of Imbler, was injured while serving as a tail gunner in World War II and walked with a limp the rest of his life. He also shared a powerful story about Robert Chapman, the uncle of his wife, Fran.
Chapman went in on a glider during the battle of Market Garden in the Netherlands during WWII. It was his first battle as a private in the Army, and he was killed the first day. His sacrifice was not forgotten, though, for Chapman posthumously received a Silver Star and a Bronze Star from the U.S. Army and most notably a Bronze Lion honor from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.
“Only 1,200 Bronze Lion awards have been given, and they are for deeds of extreme bravery,” Doran said.
Speaking to an audience of about 70 people at the Summerville Cemetery, Doran said that although Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day and Memorial Day have become interchangeable in the minds of many, it is important to make a distinction among the three.
“Armed Forces Day is for those who wear the uniform. Veterans Day is for those who wore the uniform. Memorial Day is for those who never got to take the uniform off,” he said.
Doran thinks of this each year when he helps put American flags at the headstones of veterans at the Summerville Cemetery.
“As I place a flag on each of these graves, I wonder about the sacrifices these vets made. Living in the mud. Living in the jungle heat and the mountain cold. Living among the dead. The fear of death always with them,” he said.
Doran wants people who know about the sacrifices these men made to come forward and share their stories. He also encourages those who are acquainted with a veteran to do some note-taking.
“If you know a veteran, please write down their history so future generations will know of this sacrifice,” he said.
The retired Air Force colonel, who served in the Air Force for 28 years, including one year in a Vietnam combat zone, said he would not be where he is now without the backing of Fran, his wife of 56 years.
“I would never have had a career in the Air Force without her love and support. She has determined that we have lived in over 25 houses during our marriage,” Doran said.
Those who organized and participated in Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Summerville Cemetery included local veterans John Martin and Burl Pugh, Rev. Franklin Humber of the Summerville Baptist Church, and the Patriot Guard Riders and the American Legion Riders.
Other Memorial Day programs in Union County included the 33rd annual Avenue of Flags ceremony at Grandview Cemetery in La Grande.
The ceremony was conducted among 135 American flags mounted on poles all along the road running through Grandview Cemetery. All are burial flags for American veterans that were donated by their families.
The flags were put up early Saturday morning by members of La Grande’s American Legion Post 43 and other volunteers.
The ceremony included a presentation by Roger Cochran, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church; the playing of taps and the National Anthem; a prayer; and the raising of the colors.
Cochran opened his address by discussing spirituality. He said the Bible is what he thinks of first when discussing Memorial Day.
“Only the shedding of blood all the way from Calvary holds this ground firm and free that we stand on today — constant vigilance and willing hearts and hands to stand on the firing line to defend our free nation,” Cochran said.
He then addressed America’s flag and its meaning, noting that despite the challenges the United States faces, it represents much to take pride in.
“America does not claim perfection — she does proclaim freedom and valor to the world,” Cochran said.
The pastor said our flag holds a special place in the world despite the criticism the United States receives daily.
“Although our flag is coming under fire for the moment it signifies the greatest nation on earth,” Cochran said.
The pastor also said that Americans need to remain forever vigilant.
“We must never make the mistake of thinking our homes and families are safe and stay home — excusing ourselves from the battle lines. An enemy successful on any front will ultimately be emboldened to try bigger fronts. Our homeland safety requires world safety,” Cochran said.