Last summer I did some cleanup work around St. Paul Cemetery in Litroe/Marion LA, where many of my ancestors are buried. One particular grave marker, of my grandfather Joe Lee Riley, had a bush that needed clearing. I think it was appropriate with the upcoming memorial weekend to share this photo with you. And what it meant to me as I and cousin Donald cleaned up around the various gravesides. My "Poppa Joe" was a veteran. He like many others went off to war to serve their country not knowing if they'd ever return home alive.
Poppa Joe, you left to fight for a country that didn't allow you to fully enjoy its freedom and yet, when called upon, you and many others like you demonstrated the warriors your generation was made of and made tremendous sacrifices.
You returned home, not to a hero's welcome but to those who knew what you had sacrificed for this country.
You faced many injustices upon returning which included watching people being beaten and even killed. Yet you came back home to thankful family and friends and began raising your family working with your hands. You and men like you worked long hours in the woods cutting timber and raising crops to feed your growing family of 12 as well as this man, your grandson. Times were tough and yet in my presence you never complained of the situations of those times or made any excuses.
You, however, made time to show me what it took to stand as a man and how to keep your word. I watched you constantly and learned many things from our interactions. Thank you, Grandpa Joe, for showing me how to shoot a rifle, hunt, fish and farm.
Thank you for taking me along with you to sell crops and items from your "candy store" dry goods as well as candies and sodas to those neighbors who lived in those woods. Those trips to the feed/hardware store along the Farmerville highway. For taking me along to meetings while you discussed efforts to have the roads paved because your taxes were being paid but not being used to pave over those red clay roads where you lived. I remember the dust rising up from them whenever a timber or chip truck would be around a curve in the road and we'd quickly drive into the ditch to continue living. Yes, life gave you lemons, yet you made lemonade with them. I am a product of those lemons; thank you for making me the man I became. I will always honor you, Grandpa. And when I'm gone, my children and their children will honor you.
A Vietnam vet and retired fire chief