Memorial Day is extra special for Onslow County veteran Matthew Reeves, because he joined the Marine Corps after losing two classmates.
Memorial Day, which used to be called Decoration Day, is a federal holiday honoring all those who have died in U.S. wars. Many veterans in Onslow will do the same Monday as well as every day.
Reeves chose to join the Marine Corps after Private First Class Geoffrey Morris and Lance Corporal Sean Maher, from his high school in Gurnee, Illinois, were killed in action.
"I saw the Marines coming into our high school, escorting their bodies, tending to their families," Reeves said. "I hated what happened to them, but knew I wanted to be like 'those Marines' that commanded a presence without even saying a thing. They were regal. I wanted to serve, and complete an enlistment in memory of the Marines who were not able to."
Reeves served for five years, from 2006-11, at both Security Forces Kings Bay, Georgia, and 1st Battalion 9th Marines Camp Lejeune.
He said he still connects with the families of the lost classmates back home, ensuring they know the ones they lost have not been forgotten. He added that while he was serving, he met other Marines who served with those from his high school.
"One was a Master Sergeant who was the vehicle commander and saw one of them get hit," Reeves said. "When I came across the Master Sergeant, he was an instructor, I was a student. Somehow we got to talking about hometowns and why I joined. When he made the connection, he instantly scooped me up in his arms and shed a tear. It was like full circle.
"That’s one of the beauties of the military and the Marine Corps. As long as we’re living, all those who passed still live through us."
Twenty-year Air Force veteran Ron Lashley, now an elementary school teacher, believes the same, as he's a multigenerational military member, making Memorial Day special for him.
"It's more than BBQs and get togethers," Lashley said. "It's about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and way of life."
Lashley said his dad was a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the Marine Corps for 20 years, and his son and son-in-law also served.
Lashley added that during his service, there have been many instances he remembers during Memorial Day.
"The barracks in Lebanon that took so many Marines from Camp Lejeune, Khobar Towers that took Air Force members that I was stationed with, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Afghanistan," Lashley said. "People who sacrificed in training exercises or attacks on embassies. Memorial Day exists so as not to forget their service and sacrifice."
Retired Navy Chaplain Jim Asher also said Memorial Day holds great significance for him, as his grandfather served in World War I and died from poison the Germans put in a well from which he drew water.
"I wish I could have gotten to know him, but the war took his life way too soon," Asher said. "He died when he was only 33 years old. I, also, as a retired Navy Chaplain, have helped families through the grief of losing a loved one who died because of combat. It is never easy for the family, or for those who served alongside the one who was killed."
Asher said the nation pauses during the year to honor those who sacrificed themselves in service of their country, and that it's right for us to do for those who gave the freedoms we now possess.
"I have dedicated myself to honoring their sacrifice, and I hope that many would do the same for the few who have dedicated themselves to serving us," Asher said.
For 20-year Navy veteran Joe Schutte, he agrees that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, as he thinks of those lost. He added it's a day that he's thankful for being born in the best country in the world with men and women courageous enough to fight and even die to protect our values and people.
"It reminds me of the friends that I have known, worked beside and lost in the military," Schutte said. "Also thankful for what they had sacrificed, for all of us to live safe, the way we want to live."
Reporter Morgan Starling can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on The Daily News: As Memorial Day draws near, Onslow veterans share their stories