Veterans Day: What We Don’t Know but Must Remember

November 14, 2014

submitted by G. David Wilkerson

Something Elmer G. Raymond loved happened again last week. Youth from across Pelham gathered their gear and went camping. Maybe, if he could have been asked, he would guess they gathered at the Scout lot on the “old Webster farm.” What he could never have known is the lot is named for him.

Looking at a black-and-white photo of Elmer from the 1930s shows a fair-haired boy on a bicycle, squinting into the sunlight. To his left and right are his buddies, other Scouts of Troop 25. They are all smiling; real smiles forged through the adventures and challenges of scouting. These boys called him “Sonny.”

About that same time, the town needed money to pay its bills; tax rates threatened to soar at least 10 percent. Work was hard to find and pay was flat. The specter of a huge tax increase could mean more families might lose their homes. Sacrifices would have to be made. A decision was made and land boys like Sonny clambered through would be sold by the town to pay the bills. Even so, a portion of the land was set aside for the youth of Pelham and thus, the “Scout lot,” as it was known then, was created. These are things Sonny would have known.

Later he would know the name “Adolf Hitler” and like other former Scouts of Troop 25 he would take an oath to “protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” Like others from Pelham, his love of country led him to make sacrifices. He could not know when or how great his would be. Nor could he know that his sacrifice would be remembered by the Scouts in that picture with him.

It was March 30 and near the end of a week that started, in many ways, as a good one. Sonny was stationed near Columbia, Alabama. Flight training for the Douglas A-26 was underway. A Scout buddy from Pelham, Don Burton, was stationed nearby, and Don had gotten word that Sonny would be joining him at his base soon. Meanwhile, there were a few more training missions. What started as a good week did not end that way.

Easter was two days away and his father, Mr. Raymond, was sitting in the Congregational Church building practicing with others in the choir. Maybe Mr. Raymond was thinking of the war. Perhaps his mind was on General Patton’s 3rd Army advancing in Germany or of tough progress by American troops in the Philippines against Japanese defenses. More likely, his mind was on his son in Alabama.

The plain black sedan that pulled up to the Raymond home was directed to the church. Arriving there, two men entered the sanctuary. Every parent present would know the meaning of a uniformed pair of strangers. Some had already been visited by such. Maybe, for a moment, Mr. Raymond didn’t imagine they were there for him.

An accident occurred while 2nd Lt. Elmer G. Raymond piloted his aircraft. His life was lost in the crash. Thus the war claimed another life. His patriotism was not diminished by the setting in which his sacrifice was made; the impact of his loss was as profound as any other.

Sonny could not know that he would be long remembered. He could not know that 70 years after he perished his name would be etched on a sign at the entrance to the Scout lot. He could never know that it would be his name that every Scout in Pelham would name when they headed to the lodge. His friends would know; What of us?

Today we should ask what is it we know and remember. Do we know of his sacrifice? Do we know that his buddy, Lt. Harry Atwood, another former Scout from Troop 25, stood up at town meeting and read a motion, “In consideration of faithful service to his Country and in loving memory of a popular young man who gave his life in World War II, I make this motion: That the parcel of land situated in North Pelham bequeathed to this town by Miss Martina Gage as set apart by vote of this town at a former annual meeting to wit: To be devoted to the use of Boy Scouts and 4H Clubs of Pelham, shall be named and forever known as the ‘Elmer G. Raymond Memorial Park;’ this is in honor and memory of 2nd Lieutenant Elmer Godthwaite Raymond who lost his life while piloting a plane near Columbia, Alabama. Elmer will always be remembered as a very active member of the Boy Scouts and 4H Clubs and as a very popular young man of Pelham.”

2nd Lt Elmer G. Raymond’s sacrifice is one of many. It is our obligation to recognize and remember the courage of all who have served or continue in service to our country. There is no veteran, past or present, who has raised their hand and sworn to serve who does not know the full extent of their oath. On Veterans Day we should remember not only those who made the ultimate sacrifice but also those who, though spared that demand, offered the same.