Memorial Day is a holiday set aside for remembrance of those military men and women who have died in service to our country. However, most Americans celebrate this traditional “start to summer” by enjoying a long holiday weekend of grilling burgers and hotdogs, yet, it is so much more.
The Civil War has ended and the first observance of Memorial Day occurs in May of 1868. In deference to the still raw emotions left from the war (that cost more than 600,000 lives), officials were careful to select a date that would not coincide with any specific Civil War battle. Nonetheless, the South refused to acknowledge it, instead, choosing to honor their dead on separate days, until after World War I. It was not until the passage of the 1971 National Holiday Act that Memorial Day become a national holiday.
Since the time of the Civil War, more than one million veterans have lost their lives in various wars and conflicts around the world in service to America. By the late 1860s, just more than 40 years before Frisco became a town of 600 people in 1902, Americans around the country began holding springtime tributes to the countless fallen soldiers.
The Frisco Garden Club dedicated the first Veterans Memorial in 1948, to honor all of the veterans who had served. This first memorial included a polished red granite urn on a marble platform, topped with a sun dial and plaque around the base. On Sept. 11, 2004, Frisco dedicated its new, award-winning, 63-acre Frisco Commons Park. The park includes a number of amenities and sites, among which is the beautiful Veterans Memorial, where each year, the Frisco Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Frisco Garden Club host a Memorial Day event. Today, the Veterans Memorial prominently showcases the original urn and base from the first memorial. A Veterans Walk of Honor was added to the memorial in 2014, to permanently honor Frisco veterans killed during combat operations. There is also an engraved brick walk with pavers individually donated to honor veterans.
Frisco Honors Its Own
Once again, this month, Frisco citizens and elected officials will gather at the Veterans Memorial on Mon., May 30, in honor of Memorial Day. Mayor Maher Maso and guest speaker Will Sowell, a Frisco City Council Member and a U.S. Marine for four years and two years in the Army Reserves, will offer their comments.
This year, the nine men who lost their lives in combat actions will be honored by the city. All of these men (whose average age was just under 23 years old) had at one time lived in Frisco and served in battles from World War I to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. A Frisco Commons walking trail will be named for each honoree and will include placement of a special plaque, citing their service and ultimate sacrifice. Research continues to identify other veterans deserving similar recognition.
Private James F. Sparkman, U.S. Army – World War I
In 1918, Frisco received its first official fire truck, builder O.B. McGowan completed Frisco’s first brick house in the city for James R. Newman and Frisco residents were battling the start of a two-year flu epidemic. At the same time, Private James F. Sparkman was headed to England to join the fighting underway during the Great War. He was 26 years old when he died on Feb. 5, 1918, when the British troopship S.S. Tuscania sank. It was the first ship carrying American troops to be sunk during World War I, and Private Sparkman was the first Collin County resident killed in action. Coincidentally, Frisco resident Rupert A. Davis was also on the S.S. Tuscania, but he survived. Almost 50 of Frisco’s men answered the call of duty and joined the military to serve our country during World War I.
By the time the U.S. entered World War II, in late 1941, battles were being fought in Europe and the South Pacific. Even then, Frisco was still a small farming town, but more than 250 of its patriotic citizens left to join the military. Of more than 400,000 Americans who died during World War II, five Frisco sons were killed in combat action. Four died while serving in the Pacific and one died after his plane was shot down over France.
Seaman First Class Richard Lloyd Bolton, U.S. Navy – World War II
Seaman Richard Lloyd Bolton was serving aboard the cruiser USS Quincy when the Quincy and other American ships exchanged heavy fire with Japanese cruisers during the Battle of Savo Island. Although the Americans lost four ships that day, the Quincy sustained many direct hits and ultimately sank after being struck by torpedoes. Seaman Bolton was among the 370 Quincy crewmen who lost their lives on Aug. 9, 1942.
Technical Sergeant Mabron Paul Johnson, U.S. Army Air Forces – World War II
The Allies D-Day invasion of France began on June 6, 1944. Just four days later, Sergeant Mabron Paul Johnson was the top turret gunner in the Little Shepard B-24 Liberator. While on a bombing mission targeting a German occupied airfield, the plane was shot down. Five of the crew members were taken prisoner, while four others, including Sergeant Johnson, were killed in the crash. Sergeant Johnson’s brother, Corporal Kenneth Johnson, also served during the war.
Platoon Sergeant Oren Ralph Hill, U.S. Marine Corps – World War II
One of 10 children, 25-year-old Sergeant Oren Ralph Hill was killed on July 21, 1944, during the second Battle of Guam. While the battle lasted more than two weeks before the Americans took the island, U.S. losses amounted to 1,744, compared to 18,250 Japanese deaths. Also serving in the war, was Sergeant Hill’s brother, Army Private Neville Hill.
Private Lee Harold Derryberry, U.S. Army – World War II
After deploying overseas in 1943, Private Lee Harold Derryberry’s 1st Cavalry Division engaged in heavy fighting across the rugged mountainous terrain of Leyte Island in the Philippines. The 22-year-old was killed in action on Nov. 29, 1944, during a battle to push deeper into the Leyte Valley. Capturing the island cost American forces more than 15,000 men. Private Derryberry’s survivors include a brother, Private James Derryberry, and sister, Second Lieutenant Ollie Derryberry. Another brother, Captain Jerral Derryberry, was killed in a non-combat B-17 crash in 1943.
Private First Class Sidney Gordon Duncan Jr., U.S. Army – World War II
The Battle of Okinawa was one of the largest and bloodiest American battles of the war. It began on April 1, 1945, with an island assault by more than 180,000 American soldiers and Marines. During the 82-day battle, U.S. combat losses totaled 458 airplanes, 38 ships and 4,900 sailors killed, with more than 7,600 ground troops. Private Sidney Gordon Duncan Jr. was a 24-year-old medic when he was killed on April 28, 1945. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star for his actions on Okinawa. His brothers, Norman and Thomas Duncan, also served in the Pacific during World War II. Lt. Colonel Norman Duncan’s awards included a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars, while Thomas Duncan was a Bronze Star recipient. Their grandfather, Sidney Duncan, served as Frisco’s first postmaster.
Corporal Kenneth Jack Hill, U.S. Army – Korean War
During the three years of the Korean War that began in 1950, more than 55,000 American soldiers died. Corporal Kenneth Jack Hill was killed in action on Dec. 23, 1950, during combat operations fighting the Chinese communist and North Korean forces near the Imjin River in South Korea. He was just 18 years old and had arrived in Korea roughly one year earlier. He was survived by his parents, three sisters and a brother.
Sergeant Michael Luke Boatright, U.S. Army – Operation Iraqi Freedom
At the young age of 17, Sergeant Michael Luke Boatright joined the U.S. Army National Guard. After 9/11, he signed up for active duty and planned to make the Army his career. At the age of 24, this true Texan, who loved riding bulls, listening to country music, fishing and hunting deer, was killed in action on Dec. 4, 2004, by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq. According to his mother, “He loved being a soldier and took his Army values very seriously — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.” He left behind a wife and three children.
Corporal Peter John Courcy, U.S. Army – Operation Enduring Freedom
Frisco’s American Legion Post No. 178 was named and dedicated in February of 2014 to honor Corporal Peter John Courcy, who was killed in action on Feb. 10, 2009, by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He was just two weeks away from returning home to his wife and infant son. Since childhood, 22-year-old Corporal Courcy had always wanted to join the military. He was a standout hockey player, wrestler and team leadership student at Frisco High School. In 2013, the entrance road to Frisco Commons Park was named in honor of Corporal Courcy.
Since the start of World War I in 1917, many brave men and women have died protecting our country and defending our freedoms and way of life. U.S. senator and World War II veteran Bob Dole on May 29, 2004, at the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, stated, “What we dedicate is not as a memorial to war. Rather, it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and inspires Americans, in every generation, to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for the ideals that make life itself worth living.”
Today, many Americans view military service as an abstraction — nothing more than images seen on television or in movies. The Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I are “ancient” history for most Americans, and memories are rapidly fading about World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Even more distant is an awareness of America’s participation and loss of American soldiers in conflicts in the Dominican Republic, Beirut, Bosnia, Grenada, Somalia and Panama. With the passing of more of our veterans, the opportunities for us to learn of their stories dwindle. However, with more recent engagements such as the Gulf War and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the service and sacrifices made by our military have once again taken a more prominent role in American consciousness. Respect and awareness of the sense of duty and dedication necessary to fulfill that duty is more tangible.
This Memorial Day, celebrate with your family at the Frisco Commons Park. Take the opportunity to pay respect to those being honored and for all who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our country. You can become more involved with the tax-deductible purchase of an engraved brick, honoring your special veteran, to include in the Veterans Walk of Honor. Bricks are available to recognize any veteran who served honorably, even those without direct ties to Frisco. Proceeds help pay for upkeep of the memorial and the Veterans Walk of Honor. To order a brick, consider visiting vetbrick.com.