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Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

I often ask newcomers to our community who they think Sidney Baker, Francisco Lemos, and Earl Garrett were, and the answers range from "early settlers," to "philanthropists," to "politicians."
They were, in fact, young men from Kerr County who died in World War I.
Bob Bennett’s book on Kerr County history tells the story like this:
Francisco Lemos
“The glad news that the gigantic armies facing each other on the long battle front in France had agreed to a an armistice reached Kerrville early in the morning of November 11, 1918. Soon after dawn the noise of celebrating began and the din brought people into town by the hundreds. Before noon downtown sidewalks and streets were packed with people and automobiles driving up and down the thoroughfares. Everybody was wildly hilarious with joy.
“Guns were fired, whistles were blown and bells were rung. Schools were suspended for the day. The old town fire bell in a tower on the corner now occupied by the Blue Bonnet Hotel played its part in the noisemaking. Men and boys climbed up the tower after breaking the rope used for ringing, and with hammers kept the bell clanging for hours.”
That old fire bell was on a wooden tower on the southern corner of the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, next to the Heritage Star today.
Sidney Baker
And yet, as those men and boys were ringing the old bell, striking it with hammers and mallets and sticks, joyous that the “war to end all wars” was over, the intersection had a different name: it was the corner of Water and Mountain streets.
You see, the town didn’t know some very sad news.
Earl Garrett
The very next day, November 12, 1918, Mrs. E. W. Baker received word that her son Sidney had died in the Argonne battles on October 15, 1918; Judge and Mrs. W. G. Garrett learned about a week later that their son Victor Earl had died November 4, during the last week of the war; the relatives of Francisco Lemos learned late in that month that he had died September 15, 1918.
The town that had sung and fired shots in the air and laughed and danced in the street now hung down its head and mourned.
It was decided the three fallen heroes would be remembered with streets renamed in their honor.  They were not the only Kerr County boys to die in World War I, but they were the ones honored in this way.
The Kerr County War Memorial. Click to enlarge, to read the names.
Photo source: shermanandcompany.com
The names of those from Kerr County who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country are listed on the Kerr County War Memorial.  This weekend is a good time to stop and remember them, to visit the memorial and read their names.  They were, most of them, very young.
I knew one of the men listed there: Robert (Glen) Chenault, who died in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.  As a high school student, he worked for my parents in our family's print shop.  He and my dad spent hours together, and the conversations were often about very deep subjects.  At the request of Chenault's parents, it was my dad who actually identified Glen's body, after it was shipped back from the war.  I was six when Glen died, but I have fond memories of spending time with him.
That we owe the men listed on the monument a great debt goes without saying.  But we also owe their families, sweethearts, and friends a debt, as well.
New names will be added to the monument soon, names of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, more names after those will likely be added as well -- as more young men and young women give up life so the rest of us can enjoy freedom.
Memorial Day is a day to remember them.

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