His name was Private Ralph Lewis Crane. At just 19 years of age, he was a proud member of the United States Army 42nd Rainbow Division, fighting overseas on the Western Front for freedom over tyranny. He died on the field in January 1945 in what historians call the Battle of the Bulge – the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in the Second World War.
There is a headstone for Private Crane in his hometown of Attica, IN, but he never made it home. His final resting place is near the Belgium woods where he gave his country the ultimate of sacrifices.
It’s been 74-years since Crane was deployed overseas, yet he has not been forgotten, and his memory lives on through the niece that he never had the chance to meet, Cheryl Wurtsbaugh:
“My dad spoke of his brother often … but not about the war. He spoke of how they grew up, what pranks they liked to pull … happy life, simpler times. My father was being deployed to the western front when my uncle died. They sent him home to family and he just did not want to speak of it.”
Cheryl’s friend, Steve Ray, says he learned about Memorial Day from his elementary school teacher: A woman who wore a brooch every day and carried a handkerchief tucked into her sleeve. “She insisted we understood that our freedom wasn’t free and to be proud of America, once telling us ‘hopefully, you will never be asked to pay the debt of a nation.’ I remember her tearing up, turning away, and then continuing our lesson.”
His teacher was Cheryl’s grandmother, Mrs. Ella Crane.Gary Blakesley
A Solemn Affair
An entire generation is emerging without a real understanding of Memorial Day. Sure, it’s a three-day weekend that launches the summer season of outdoor activities. But for some, it’s simply a solemn affair reminding loved ones of a loss that can be indescribable.
Retired Navy Lieutenant Gary Blakesley, a Mustang officer and casket bearer in the Presidential Honor Guard, recalls one of his most vivid memories while serving the fallen – the final salute:
“We had a summer funeral for a Navy Lieutenant pilot. Unusually, it was a Navy doctor that first made his way to the seating area followed by the chaplain. The family came next, and it all made sense. This young pilot’s wife was nine months pregnant and towing a four-year-old son. The son was restless and half-way through the ceremony, he asked his mother, ‘Mommy, where’s daddy? You said daddy would be here.’ For anyone who doesn’t understand this weekend, hopefully now you do.”
A Life Interrupted
It was a telegram beginning with “I regret to inform you,” and it was the way families were notified of a soldier’s passing. Mrs. Walter Ray received that missive in 1916, and she began the arduous process of life without her husband. It was the war to end all wars, and Army Corporal Walter Ray found himself in enemy German territory. The Army knew he was a casualty but did not recover his body, and battle went on. In Indiana, Mrs. Ray began receiving war widow benefits and soldiered on, raising their children. And then Walter came home.
After being shot three times, taken in by a German family, and nursed back to health, Corporal Ray made his way home months after being declared dead. He rarely spoke of his time in the service but was a lifelong educator and advocate for the day set aside to honor this nation’s fallen.
Grandson Steve Ray reminds us that “I regret to inform you” alters lives and although his grandfather found his way back, “Thousands upon thousands of those letters have been delivered. Thousands upon thousands of lives interrupted.”
Where Will You Be at 3pm?
In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance, humbly asking Americans to pause for just one minute at three o’clock in the afternoon on Memorial Day. One minute away from the game. One minute out of the pool. One minute away from the grill or the television set to pay tribute to those men and women that gave their last full measure for these activities to be possible.
It’s hardly enough – yet the symbolism of this powerful act will be felt by those who have lost and who continue to grieve their loved ones.
Sleep peacefully, knowing that your freedom is steeped in the blood of our nation’s soldiers. Thank them. Honor them. And remember their names.
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