Memorial Day is traditionally set for the last Monday in May. It is a day that most people are off work, students are out of school, grills fire up and trips to the beach are being taken.
However, Memorial Day is about much more. It is a day that is set aside to honor and remember the men and women who died while serving in the United States armed forces.
Thomasville’s John Pike and Marshall Berman consider it an honor to have served their country and fought next to many men who lost their lives for the nation.
Pike was only 19 years old when he joined the Army during the Vietnam War.
He said, “I knew I was going to be drafted, so I joined. I’ve always been a part of a patriotic family.”
In 1967, Pike was deployed to South Vietnam with a combat unit.
He was 20 and half years old when he left Vietnam and returned home.
“Even though I was there for a short time, it felt like a lifetime. I was wounded twice and it changed my entire life. I knew I was vulnerable and could be on the killed list. You learned how to survive daily,” said Pike.
He learned to have a keen respect for all branches of the military and how to work together.
“I have a greater respect today,” said Pike.
He said it was difficult serving in Vietnam because it was such a despised war by many Americans.
Pike remembered, “We were hated and it was tough serving in Vietnam.”
He is grateful to have survived.
He said, “People don’t know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. My family honors me on Veteran’s Day, and I’m thankful for that.”
Berman seeks to give back to the veterans who have risked their lives and could have easily been killed during their service.
He was born and raised in Fall River, Mass. Once out of school, he had to decide whether to go to college, the military or work in the family business. He felt like he needed discipline, so he joined the Marines.
Berman, who served four years, was assigned to VMA 332, an attack squadron, in Japan. It was his experience of returning home and seeing the lack of patriotism that led Berman to helping veterans.
He is the founder of Veteran Boosters, which initiated a bus service that transports veterans to VA hospitals. He credited Jerry Poole, Bill and Evelyn Bishop, Joe Farrell and his wife, Bobbie, for their help and guidance.
Berman believes there has been a dramatic change in the way veterans have been treated in recent years.
He said, “It used to be an honor and blessing to serve and then be able to retire. During the world wars, it was an honor for them to serve. They rushed to be a part of that. Everyone who has served feels they deserve honor.”
Berman grew up during World War II and remembered when he was in kindergarten wanting to be in the military.
“As kids, we were proud. We played military rather than cowboys and indians. I knew I was going into the military. We need the type of leadership we once had. Leadership is set by example, and we need this leadership — ready to help one another, not dictate,” said Berman.
As the community takes part in remembering those who have fallen to protect the nation, they can honor the fallen by helping and respecting those who once served.
Berman said, “You don’t have to be a veteran to be a veteran booster. You can help.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.