RADFORD – Each year on Memorial Day weekend, E.J. Vaught, Jr. returns to his hometown of Radford to honor the memory of his father, Elmer J. Vaught, Sr.
Vaught, Sr. is one of the 59 Radford men who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in U.S. wars from World War I on. His name, along with Radford’s other war casualties, will be read as part of the solemn Memorial Day ceremony, set for Monday at 11 a.m. in Bisset Park.
Like the children of many World War II veterans, the younger Vaught never got the chance to know his father, who died in battle in France when his son was just two years old. After years of wondering what his father’s last weeks, days and hours were like, E.J. Vaught, a 1960 graduate of Radford High School, tracked down details that led he and his wife, Linda Moore Vaught, on a trek across France following his father’s footsteps of battle. Vaught, Jr. got the chance to stand on the hallowed ground where his father fought has last battle.
“Like a lot of orphans of World War II, we are always searching for information on our fathers,” Vaught said Monday in an interview in Radford. “My search eventually led to me retracing my father’s steps across France this past April and I was able to stand on the mountain where it happened, where my father was killed.”
“It’s a healing process,” he added. “It’s closure. It’s a time of remembering.”
Vaught credits his mother, Ethel Duncan Vaught Viers, with helping him immensely with his search by keeping all the letters his father sent her while he was in France. While those letters were censored, Vaught said, they did mention enough towns in France that enabled Vaught to fill in some blanks. E also got the chance to speak with three of his father’s fellow soldiers from the 315th regiment, Company C, of the 79th division, who took part in the battle the night his father died.
“They said it was the fiercest fire fight they were involved in during the war,” Vaught said of the January 14, 1945 battle. “It was quite a battle.”
Vaught will be on-hand for this Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at Bisset Park in Radford.
Highlighting the 12th annual service will be a new “Field of Crosses” to honor the 59 men who lost their lives in past wars.
“Arrayed like those at Arlington and other military cemeteries, the crosses will bear the names of those fallen heroes,” writes Bob Thomas, chair of he volunteer committee that organizes the event.
The service begins at 11 a.m. Monday, May 31, at the Gazebo in Bisset Park, with posting of the colors by the area’s Vietnam Veterans, to the bugle of Gary Jackson, LTC, US Army Retired, playing “To the Colors.”
The event will include Piper Andrew Meeks performing “Amazing Grace,” the traditional 21-gun salute, featured speaker Lt. Col. Andy Munera, Commander of the Radford Arsenal, Virginia Delegate Dave Nutter, the Radford High School Band in a medley of patriotic and military service songs, and a reading of the names of those past heroes of the military. The service also honors all veterans and those currently serving our nation in all branches of service.
For the first time, the entire program will be aired live on WRAD, AM 1460, especially for those unable to attend in person.
The white three-foot tall crosses have been handcrafted by VFW Commander Gary Harris, with materials costs underwritten by ATK Ammunition and Energetics at the Arsenal, and lettering provided by Sign Systems of Radford.
Dana Jackson, U.S. Navy Ret., and Commander of American Legion Post 30, will read the 59 names of those who died in service in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam.
Music by the Radford High School band, including the National Anthem, will be directed by Daniel Frankenberger. A 21-gun salute by members of VFW Post 776, and “Taps” will conclude the service.
Radford Mayor Thomas Starnes will welcome the assembly, with the invocation by Rev. Karen Lane, Pastor of Grove United Methodist Church, Radford.
The weekend begins with the placing of hundreds of American flags at the city end of Memorial Bridge on Friday evening. It is an annual fund-raising project of Dublin-Radford Ruritan, with each flag representing a person being honored by family or friends. The display will remain on view until May 31. Those wishing to place a flag should contact Tereba Bott at 674-6389 evenings.
Attendees will receive miniature flags from Woodmen of the World, Lodges 14. ATK Ammunition and Energetics, in association with the Commander’s office at the Arsenal, provides the printed program for the ceremonies.
Major sponsors for the annual activities are VFW Post 776, American Legion Post 30, Radford News Journal, WRAD 1460 AM, Vietnam Veterans, Ruritan, and the Citizen Memorial Day Committee. EmCee for the program is Bob Thomas, retired media professional from Radford.
Those assisting with the event include Radford Parks and Recreation, City of Radford, the RHS Music Department, NRV Detachment of the Marine Corps League, and Mullins Funeral Home.
The service is open and free to the public. For more information, contact Thomas at 540-633-0081.