Pat Willis, like many other vets, will never forget the day he got home from Vietnam.
He'd just spent a year not getting killed -- sometimes by a small margin.
He'd just spent a year getting used to having guys die in the course of an unpopular war.
He'd just spent a year doing his job and setting aside his growing doubts.
The military transport offloaded them at a civilian airport, to somehow resume civilian life.
They hustled through the airport, almost furtive -- conspicuous in their uniforms. Some demonstrators spotted them and yelled at them -- hard, bitter things that reflected the torment of a divided nation.
More than 30 years later, his memory of that day lingers. Like a lot of Vietnam vets, Willis put his uniform away and didn't talk about his service. But the pain of that homecoming stayed with him -- which perhaps accounts for why he has played such a vital role in bringing the Vietnam Tribute Wall back to Payson.
We have in recent weeks talked to a lot of Rim Country Vietnam veterans, who all said their efforts to cope with the things they did and saw and felt was harder because of the reactions of the fellow citizens they'd risked everything to protect.
And they almost all observed the very different way in which the community has embraced returning Iraqi vets as evidence that perhaps the country learned something from that other war after all: You can hate the war and still honor those who serve.
It's a point worth making as we gear up for Memorial Day Weekend, which too easily turns into a long barbecue unconnected to any effort to honor those who gave that last full measure of devotion.
Payson is rich in those who risked everything that we might fish, grill steaks and wax sentimental. We have talked to some of those veterans who go every year to the somber celebrations that mark the true purpose of Memorial Day and wonder, sadly, at the empty seats in the audience.
So we want to take this opportunity to urge our readers to take time from the family pleasures of this beautiful spring weekend to attend one of the ceremonies that honor those who gave to their country everything they had and everything they would ever have.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion will stage one tribute at the Payson Pioneer Cemetery, at the corner of North Vista Road and Mesa at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
Messinger Payson Funeral Home invites the public to a commemoration at 10 a.m., Sunday at Mountain Meadows Memorial Park on Upper Round Valley Road.
On Monday at 8 a.m., Mazatzal Hotel and Casino will stage a flag-raising ceremony with music, speakers, and a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace."
On Monday at 10 a.m. at the Green Valley Park Veterans Memorial there will be an additional ceremony, remarks, music and a flag raising.
Thanks to the dedicated people who have organized these events, Rim Country residents will have ample opportunities to show their gratitude to the veterans who survived and to the families of those who did not.
Just ask veterans like Pat Willis whether it matters and whether the veterans themselves make note of whether their service earns gratitude or indifference.
Of course, those the day most honors cannot attend. They are past worrying about the empty seats or the snap of the flag or the smell of the grilling steak.
We can hardly think what to do in the face of so great a sacrifice -- save to dedicate ourselves to those very things they yearned for when their service was done.
Perhaps that is why we return again and again to the worlds of Abraham Lincoln spoken from a full but broken heart on the battlefield of Gettysburg.
So we close with his words now:
"In a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."