After attending a Memorial Day ceremony that drew scores of people to Evergreen Cemetery on Monday, Charles and Margaret Gamble lingered by their son's grave.
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Though Charles Gamble Jr. died decades ago during the Vietnam War, his parents' sense of loss remains very much in the present. They even carried a picture of the part of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. that bears his name.
"It doesn't get any easier," Margaret Gamble said. "They all have a mother on that black wall. He was our only son."
Hundreds of Juneau residents paid their respects to soldiers such as Gamble and Donald Sperl, another Juneau resident who died in the Vietnam War, in ceremonies in Mendenhall Valley and downtown. They gathered to share a somber day.
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Arthur "Gene" Brooks was a featured speaker at Evergreen Cemetery at an event sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559 and Ladies Auxiliary. He described the decency and good character of American soldiers, and said the nation goes to war reluctantly.
"They defended our nation, they liberated the oppressed, and they served the cause of peace," he said.
Mixing in some history of the Coast Guard, Brooks added that there are still 600 Coast Guard personnel in the Persian Gulf today.
Juneau residents said they were pleased with the event, and said the attendance was better than in previous years.
U.S. Army veteran Don Gotschall said he was impressed by the wreaths brought out by various organizations.
"Everybody seemed to have a good common purpose here today," Gotschall said.
Merrill Sanford came to be with friends and the people he went to school with before he fought in Vietnam. He stood quietly by the graves of Gamble and Sperl, reminiscing about their high school days.
"They were great people, both of them," he said.
As a veteran Marine, Sanford felt strongly about the holiday honoring fallen soldiers.
"It's a time to honor those who have given their all to their country for their families and neighbors," Sanford said. "Freedom does not come free. You have to pay a price for it."
Charles and Margaret Gamble know all too well. As they honored their beloved son, they were approached by well-wisher after well-wisher. It's a deeply personal holiday for the family.
"We never miss it, every year," Charles Gamble said.
Ken Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.