Men and women military servicemembers across the nation have given their lives in service of protecting Americans’ freedoms — and a long list of engraved silver plaques commemorates the Panola County residents who have died while serving.

On Monday, Lt. Com. U.S. Navy (Ret.) Phillip Verhalen asked those still living how they could honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“What can we, the living, do for this great nation of ours in honor of those who died?” he said. “Some of us served, some of you young people may still have the opportunity to serve in the military. Some perform other types of government service. We have to run this country with government service. Some of us are educators. Some are farmers. Some work in the oilfield. Some work in service industry. Some are healthcare workers. Every job well done is important.”

The Panola County VFW Post 5620, American Legion Post 353 and American Legion Post 151 and other Panola County officials hosted the annual Memorial Day service at the Veterans Memorial outside of the Old Jail Library. The event remembers Panola County military servicemembers who died while serving in wars from the Civil War to present.

The service included posting of the colors from the Panola County Sheriff’s Honor Guard, as well as the reading of names with the help of the American Heritage Girls. Verhalen, a Scottsville resident who works at the Panola County Airport, served as guest speaker.

Verhalen began his speech talking about friends and family who have served in the military and recent wars like Desert Storm. That war, he said, was as good as it gets.

“There aren’t any good wars. But this war was as good as wars get because it was over in only three days and our side won,” he said. “There were 248 American casualties in Desert 1. Vietnam War lasted about 11 years. The Korean War had heavy fighting for about three years, but that war has yet to be declared over more than 70 years after it started. World War II lasted about four years for the United States, about six years for most of Europe, about nine years for the Asian countries involved. There were 405,399 American causalities in World War II. World War I lasted about five years for most of the nations involved. A three-day war like Desert Storm is as good as wars get because it was over quickly.”

But although he started his speech talking about those servicemembers who came back alive, Verhalen said, Memorial Day served as a way to honor those who didn’t.

“It’s important to remember those who are alive in active service right now, but today we remember that not everyone comes back alive,” he said. “It’s especially important to remember on Memorial Day those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can live freely in these United States.”

Memorial Day, he said, was a good day to make a public statement of gratitude.

“Show up at a Memorial Day service like this one, show the flag, wear a red poppy, go over to that museum and buy one of their bricks to let people know that we remember,” he said. “Today is a day to consider putting flowers on a grave to remember someone who passed on while serving in the military.”

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Editor

Meredith Shamburger serves as the regional editor for Carthage and Kilgore. She has previously worked at the Longview News-Journal, the Marshall News Messenger and The Dallas Morning News. Meredith graduated from Southern Methodist University in 2011.