‘A somber occasion’

William R. Toler | Daily Journal Alma Strother, a retired U.S. Air Force technical sergeant, salutes after laying a wreath in front of the flagpole at a Memorial Day service in Dobbins Heights on Monday morning.

William R. Toler | Daily Journal Daniel Harrington, left, Edward Tender and Clyde Bass stand in somber retrospection during the playing of “Taps.”

DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Clyde Bass was “one of the lucky ones.”

He actually returned home from Vietnam. Some of his friends did not.

Bass was one of seven young men from his 1967 graduating class to go into the U.S. Marine Corps right after high school.

Out of that group, Lonnie Ellerbe never made it back. He was one of about five from Richmond County who died in that war.

“I lost a lot of friends over there,” Bass said, following a Memorial Day service in front of the Dobbins Heights Town Hall Monday morning.

Another man Bass remembered was Calvin Cooper, from Kingstree, South Carolina. Cooper was one of Bass’ best friends when they went through boot camp at Parris Island.

Bass said Cooper was captured by the Viet Cong and killed, 30 days after arriving in Vietnam.

“I was just one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I don’t know how, but I was. It was a blessing from God that I made it back home.”

He said it was rough being 18 years old and taking on such a big responsibility.

“You stayed numb all the time,” he said. “If you start thinking about some of the things goin’ on over there, it would get to you.”

When he came back home, Bass got married, had three kids and worked for CSX Railroad for 40 years, 20 as a locomotive engineer.

“It bothers me,” he said about losing so many he knew. “I think about it sometime. They didn’t get the chance I had because they lost their life.”

Bass was one of several veterans at the morning ceremony, including Dobbins Heights Mayor Antonio Blue, who said he knew several who had lost their lives during his 24 years in the U.S. Army.

“This is a somber occasion where so many gave so much,” Blue said. “Freedom isn’t free.”

Returning to his hometown, Army 1st Lt. Austin Dockery recounted to the small crowd what his mentor had told him about those who had fallen in battle: “Remember them as they stood and what they stood for and the sacrifice they made.”

Lawrence A. Strother, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a chief master sergeant, gave the history of Memorial Day and explained the difference between it and Veterans Day.

His wife, Alma Strother — herself an Air Force veteran and sister of Dobbins Heights Town Clerk Mary Magee — laid a wreath in front of the flag, which flew at half-staff until noon, and saluted.

The wreath-laying was succeeded by the playing of “Taps” and Ray Charles’ rendition of “America, the Beautiful,” as the crowd stood in silent retrospection.

Blue later remarked how there were timely gusts of wind during the national anthem, and the other two songs, which caused the flag to unfurl and flap in the breeze.

This was the third year the town has held a Memorial Day service.

Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.