Jim Cowman retired as a major, but he never likes to say more than he served in Vietnam with his military branch.
“We were Marines,” Cowman said. “We don’t care about rank.”
Monday is that philosophy in action, as services will commemorate Memorial Day across the nation. The people honored were young and old, with ranks high and low in every branch. But what unites them, and matters above all, is they paid their lives in the name of their country.
The Curry County Joint Veterans Council sponsors a Memorial Day Observance 10 a.m. at the Lawn Haven Garden of Honor. Portales has a 9:30 a.m. United Daughters of the Confederacy program and a 10:30 a.m. American Legion ceremony, both at the Portales Cemetery.
There are 173 names of Curry County residents killed in military action on display outside the Clovis-Carver Public Library, with the latest two added May 21 — Garrett Misener and Joe Luis Gonzales.
Misener died in Afghanistan, while Gonzales was killed in World War II aboard the USS Evans.
“He should have been honored 40 years ago,” Cowman said of Gonzales. “I don’t know what happened, but not much did.”
Their stories often depend on friends and family members, and fellow fighters who did come back alive.
Lilian Higgs’ husband Wayne came back from Iwo Jima with injuries to his right shoulder, arm and leg, but said her husband is so quiet about the experience that she knows more about his combat time from his fellow soldiers than she does from him.
She can only imagine the stories from those who didn’t come home, both of a past ended too soon and a future never realized.
“We’ve lost loved ones, family members during wartime,” she said. “It always makes you wonder what they might have been able to accomplish had they come back and raised their families and recognized that freedom they fought for.”
The Higgs are a common sight at ceremonies like the May 21 ceremony and the annual Memorial Day event. But Wayne, known as Dick to friends, said he’s content not taking a larger part.
“I just wasn’t brought up to do that kind of thing,” said Wayne Higgs, who served in the Marines.
Every name has a story, and some stories get repeated more often, Cowman said. He had two tours in Vietnam, but came home to Waco, Texas, on emergency leave when his father had a series of heart attacks.
While he was home, his cousin was one of three killed in Ontonagon, Mich., and the story of the town made the newspaper in Waco. A story like that would be like Melrose showing up in a New Hampshire newspaper.
But every story is important. Cowman said at the service that another casualty will probably result in the Curry County Veterans Council buying a new stone.
“Our thoughts are that we never have to put up another stone or name,” he said, “but I think most veterans realize that’s wishful thinking.”