Perry Harrison looks at Arlington through the bus window. Photo by Meghan Cooke
By Meghan Cooke
Courtesy of the Carrboro Commons
The memories are still here. Memories of battlefields scarred by the loss of friends, family and comrades years ago. Memories to honor their sacrifice. Memories of one soldier, out of many, remembered by comrades and family for his service and life.
Almost 40 members, family and friends of the American Legion Post 6 of Chapel Hill and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9100 boarded a bus Wednesday, April 25, for a day-long journey to Washington D.C., where they honored Carl L. Fritz and visited the World War II memorial.
Fritz, who served three years in the Army Air Corps during World War II, died on February 4 at age 83. After his service in the military, Fritz spent 25 years with U.S. foreign aid agencies and traveled to India, Sri Lanka, East Africa, Vietnam and Thailand. From 1992 to 1996, he served as the Post Commander of the Chapel Hill VFW post.
Lee Heavlin, a Carrboro resident, Vietnam veteran and current post commander of Post 9100, knew Fritz for about five years from his involvement in the VFW. Heavlin said that Fritz attended every meeting with his wife, Tarinee.
â€œHe was a very quiet, personable, humble person. He was never very talkative, but he was there to participate and to be a good soldier,â€ Heavlin said.
After Fritzâ€™s death, Heavlin said that VFW members tried to find a way to help send Mrs. Fritz to Arlington National Cemetery for her husbandâ€™s service. They decided on a bus, so that others could pay to ride along, but Mrs. Fritz offered to pay for everyoneâ€™s seat.
â€œShe said it was important for him to be buried there and it was important that his friends were there, and it was the right thing to do,â€ Heavlin said.
Heavlin said that the Fritzes lived very close to Arlington National Cemetery when Carl was working with U.S. foreign aid agencies. She told Heavlin that she and her husband would often walk through the cemetery at night, and that he expressed his desire to lie with his comrades when the time came.
â€œShe was pretty adamant about making his dream come true,â€ Heavlin said. â€œThe most important thing to her was how she could honor her husband. My hatâ€™s off to her.â€
Remembering a comrade
As the bus approached Washington D.C., passengers began to curiously peer out the windows as the Washington Monument and the Pentagon came into sight.
The bus entered Arlington and followed its winding road, passing thousands of identical white tombstones. A solemn reminder of the lives lost in service of our country, the rows seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see.
â€œLook at that. Thatâ€™s beautiful,â€ Perry Harrison said as he watched the passing rows from the bus window. Harrison, an Army Air Corps veteran who served in Germany just after WWII, said he prefers the simple white stones because it eliminates rank and makes all of those who gave their lives for their country equal in death.
The bus climbed to the top of a hill to the Old Post Chapel, a small chapel where the service for Fritz was to be held. Inside, several stain glass windows let in the warm afternoon light in an orange tone. Those in attendance slid into the pews and waited for the ceremony.
Almost 60 people attended the service, including several members of Mrs. Fritzâ€™s family, about 10 of whom came from Thailand for the service.
Outside the chapel, the honor guard saluted, lined up and marched into the vestibule with the sound of their shiny black shoes clicking against the chapelâ€™s wood floor. A folded flag and the urn were presented to two soldiers who were led to the front of the church by an Army chaplain.
The chaplain spoke about Fritzâ€™s dedication to his family and to his country.
â€œIf youâ€™ve never fought a war, you donâ€™t know how precious freedoms are,â€ the chaplain said.
As the service concluded, the organist played â€œAmerica the Beautifulâ€ and the two honor guard soldiers returned to march the flag and urn out of the chapel.
Everyone boarded the bus again to follow the family to the columbarium, a large open structure in Arlington with recesses in its walls where the ashes of soldiers are placed. Seven honor guard soldiers with rifles were waiting at the columbarium and seven other soldiers escorted Fritzâ€™s urn.
The urn was placed on a small table and the soldiers unfolded a flag and held it tight and motionless over the urn. As the chaplain finished leading prayer, the soldiers silently folded the flag, which was given to the chaplain, and three rounds were fired by the soldiers with rifles. The chaplain then knelt in front of Mrs. Fritz and presented her the flag.
Mrs. Fritz was escorted inside the columbarium, where she carefully placed her husbandâ€™s urn inside one of the stone compartments in a long row of other fallen soldiers, some of whom were killed recently in Iraq.
Heavlin said that the ceremony gave the other veterans a chance to see how they are respected at Arlington National Cemetery.
â€œThe service was meaningful and people came away very proud, proud that they were there.â€
RememberingÂ 400,000 fallen
After the service concluded, the veterans said goodbye to Mrs. Fritz, who planned to stay with family for a few days nearby. The bus was reloaded, and with a few hours left before their departure back to North Carolina, the bus made its way toward the World War II memorial.
The memorial, an oval structure built in between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, contains 56 pillars inscriber with the names of all the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia. A large pool of water with several fountains is located in the center of the memorial.
Construction of the memorial began in September 2001 and it was dedicated in May 2004.
Several veterans, along with countless other visitors, stopped at the Freedom Wall, a wall facing the Lincoln Memorial that contains 4,000 gold stars, each one representing 100 American lives lost in the war.
Veterans stood at the wallâ€™s edge as others took pictures of them. Many stood teary-eyed.
George Walker, a U.S. Army Air Corp veteran of World War II, said that the memorial was wonderful.
â€œIâ€™ve never seen anything like it,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t know how to describe it. Iâ€™m just glad Iâ€™m here.â€
Betty Brittain said that she saw the memorial at its dedication in 2004, but would not have wanted to miss an opportunity to see it again. Her late husband, John T. Brittain, was a World War II veteran who fought at Iwo Jima.
John Paliouras, a Korean War veteran who immigrated to the United States from Greece, said this was his first time visiting the memorial, but he was glad to be able to see it now.
Heavlin said that it was important for veterans, particularly World War II veterans, to see the memorial because it brings on a lot of emotions and a sense of closure.
â€œItâ€™s sort of like your father saying, â€˜You done good,â€™â€ Heavlin said.
Tired, but grateful for the chance to both honor Fritz and visit the World War II memorial, everyone boarded the bus again.
Bud Hampton, a World War II and Korean War veteran who has lived in Chapel Hill since 1965, said that the tripâ€™s main purpose was to honor Fritz. But, the former marine said, the memorial is very significant to those who fought in World War II.
â€œThe main thing is to honor veterans and show them the respect they deserve,â€ he said.
Hampton fought at Iwo Jima, which he described as a brutal experience. He said that when they landed at Iwo Jima, there were 10 officers, including himself.
â€œBy the eighth day, I was the only one left,â€ he said.
Hampton was injured twice in the service, twice hit by shrapnel. He received two Purple Hearts.
Another World War II veteran, Robert Patton, has lived in Chapel Hill for over 40 years. Wednesday was his first time attending a memorial service in Arlington National Cemetery. He served under General George Patton through France, Austria and Germany. He was also a member of the unit that liberated the concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria, on May 5, 1945.
On a lighter note, Patton recalled a joke that his fellow soldiers played on him. He had been recognized in a ceremony and received a medal in a village in Austria, and villagers wondered who he was. Pattonâ€™s friends told them that he was General Pattonâ€™s son. The general was a celebrity at the time, so villagers were quite taken with Robert, who in fact was no relation to the general.
â€œI went along with it and had fun too,â€ he said as he described how the villagers would point and smile at him whenever they saw him.
Harrison said he liked the story so much that he drew a caricature of Robert dressed in a generalâ€™s uniform with the generalâ€™s signature weapon: two pearl-handled pistols at each hip. The picture also showed Robert holding a map upside down.
â€œI promoted him to a four-star general,â€ Harrison said, laughing.
Stories like this floated around throughout the day, as memories of time spent in the service were shared.
Harrison, a talented artist, drew several pictures on notebook paper on the ride up and back.
Brittain asked him to draw a picture for her, and within a few minutes he drew one of a plainly dressed girl looking longingly into a shop window at a mannequin wearing a sophisticated party dress.
â€œHold on to that now. Thirty years after Iâ€™m gone, with that and a dollar, you can buy a cup of coffee,â€ Harrison said, laughing as he handed Brittain the drawing.
Harrison drew another picture for a passenger whose son is currently serving in the Army. A tired soldier sits with his gun propped against a tree as he dangles his helmet wearily in his hands. Harrison signed the drawing and wrote, â€œTo Jason, a hero.â€
A hero among heroes.
Â Meghan Cooke, a junior at UNC-CH majoring in Journalism, from King, N.C. is one of the co-winners of the Peggy Allen prize awarded annually to outstanding community journalism students. The prize is supporting her summer internship at the Mt. Airy News. This story can also be found at carrborocommons.org. it was written for her Community Journalism Class, taught by Jock Lauterer.Â