More than 40 years after serving in Vietnam, Willie Searcy still has nightmares about what he saw and heard during the war. The former Marine remembered lost friends on Sunday as he was one of approximately 150 people attending a Memorial Day service at the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery.
"It is still hard for me to talk about what happened there," said Searcy, who was in Vietnam 1966-1967. "At night, I still hear the gunfire."
Searcy, 66, said his battalion was attacked on three different occasions, and he was lucky to survive.
"Sometimes, I feel guilty for making it back," he said.
It wasn't just fellow Marines that fell.
"I had a good friend who was in the Army," said Searcy, who is from Dothan, Ala. "He was killed around Thanksgiving, right before I shipped out."
Searcy badly damaged an ankle during the war. He said he now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was brought to the ceremony on a bus from the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, the VA hospital in Tuskegee. He spent the afternoon in a wheelchair.
"You know when I got back, people called me a baby killer," Searcy said. "That's just the way it was back then. I think people have more respect for veterans of war now, but there is still not enough done for them. Too many come back from war and have to wait on benefits."
He enjoyed the ceremony.
"I thought people here today did a good job of honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Those veterans are not forgotten," Searcy said.
Also attending the ceremony was Greg Kilgore, who served in the U.S. Navy.
He was at the cemetery with family to visit the grave of his father, Jon Jaxon Kilgore, a retired Navy chief petty officer who served in Vietnam and died in 2011.
As he stood by the grave, Kilgore, of Columbus, emptied a can of beer on it, something he does on every visit, he said.
"My father loved beer," explained Kilgore. "We use to sit together, drink beer and watch football."
He felt it important to come out close to Memorial Day.
"I love all veterans," Kilgore said. "It is important to remember what so many sacrificed."
The guest speaker for the event was James R. Talton, director of Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.
"We come to remember and celebrate the fallen," he said.
Talton said that those being honored fought for a cause in which they believed that no cost was too great.