For 24 years, a Franklin resident has had the same routine on Memorial Day.
Gary Kutruff, 67, walks among the crosses in front of the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin. Each bears the name of a county resident who died in combat since World War II.
He looks for the names of the men he fought next to in the Vietnam War more than four decades ago.
Memorial Day took new meaning after returning home from that war, Kutruff said. He realized what the day was about when men he knew died in combat.
“When you intimately know those who were lost in combat, (the day) means so much more,” Kutruff said.
Randy Weathers, a U.S. Army veteran, shared a similar message with about 200 people on the courthouse lawn Monday.
Memorial Day isn’t about picnics, beaches or a popular race, he said, the day is about honoring every veteran who has served.
“It is a day to remember. That is why we are here,” he said.
American Legion members vow to remember veterans all year long, but that job should also go to all Americans, he said.
Parents, siblings, children and spouses who have lost a loved one to war know the sacrifice their relative made, and they must be supported, Weathers said.
“We need to be there for them, not as American Legion (members), but as American citizens,” he said.
Millions of veterans are scattered across the world. All of them, not just those wearing a medal, deserve recognition, Weathers said.
People should remember that service men and women who die in war are young. Most are under the age of 25 and didn’t get the chance to return home and raise their families, he said.
Weathers shared a letter from a fallen soldier to his 6-year-old daughter that explained why he wasn’t there to play with her. He also told the story of an 8-year-old who wrote a thank-you note to a veteran because his dad died in combat when he was a month old.
“Americans must remember that freedom is not free,” Weathers said.
That reminder is in the crosses that are hammered into the courthouse lawn every year around Memorial Day.
People sat among the crosses during the ceremony gazing at the names. Memorial wreaths were hung on some of the crosses, and each had an American flag.
A woman stopped to explain the meaning of the crosses to a little girl wearing a red, white and blue skirt. Veterans walked among the crosses at the end of the annual ceremony.
Kutruff said the crosses and the ceremony help bring closure to veterans who made it home safely from their service. So does walking through the crosses and remembering those who were lost, he added.
“The ceremony is part of the healing process,” Kutruff said.