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Elks service pays tribute to war dead

Marine Sgt. William Stacey was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Jan. 23, 2012.

He was on his fourth tour of the war-born country.

Like many in the military, he had written a letter to be read only if was killed in action.

Stacey's story was told by David Driver of Great Falls, former department commander for the Montana American Legion, the featured speaker at the Elks Club service that followed the Memorial Day ceremonies at the Hill County Courthouse on Monday.

Driver read Stacey's letter to the crowd that gathered for the services.

"My death did not change the world; it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all," Stacey wrote.

"Perhaps I did not change the world. Perhaps there is still injustice in the world. But there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his.

"And this child will learn in the new schools that have been built. He will walk his streets not worried about whether or not his leader's henchmen are going to come and kidnap him," the sergeant wrote. "He will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire."

"He will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long." the letter went on. " If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it."

Driver then told the story of Father Emil Kapaun, who served in Korea in the early 1950s with a group that was invaded by the Chinese troops that had just entered the war.

He traveled from foxhole to foxhole, aiding American troops.

When commanders ordered the area evacuated, Father Kapaun remained behind.

He was carrying one seriously injured soldier to safety, when the man urged him to put him down and flee.

"If I put you down, they will shoot you," he said.

Eventually, Father Kapaun was captured and brought to a prisoner of war camp, where he got dysentery and pneumonia and eventually died.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Father Kapaun the Medal of Honor.

"He never fired a gun, but he was armed with a more powerful weapon — love," the president said.

These are just reasons why Memorial Day is held each year, Driver said.

We need to honor the war dead, he said, "not just as members of the American Legion, but as members of the American family."

"Sergeant Stacy believes that his sacrifice was worth it," Driver said. "We've got to prove him right."

Driver spoke at a podium a few feet away from a table set for dinner for one person — a prisoner of war and missing in action.

Bob Nieuwenhuyse of the Elks Club spoke of the need to pay tribute to the war dead and honor those who serve today.

The Elks Club, he said, would fight any effort to remove "In God We Trust," as the ntion's motto.

"We believe that our nation was founded under God, and we should not ... strike the name God from our nation's symbols."

"Today we give our heartfelt thanks to the men and women who serve," he said.


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