Growing up in the 1950s, I began to notice how often the flags in front of the post office and the courthouse were drawn down to half-staff to remind us to remember something that happened on that particular date. It seemed, as I grew older, the lowering became more frequent.
It was also then that I began to add to that commemoration the names and faces of people I knew or had known, people from my family and community who had been part of what we should remember. At some point in all of this, I came across Max Gillis.
I never met him.
He was of my parents’ generation. But those who knew him remembered him as a splendid student, the president of the student body, and a varsity letterman in three sports who was voted “best looking” by his peers.
No one was surprised at all this. Coming from one of the most prominent families in the community, he was simply living up to expectations. So no one was likely surprised that when we heard the news of Pearl Harbor, Max Gillis enlisted and went to Officer Candidate School. Then, after completing his training, he was sent to France to do what he was meant to do – to be a leader.
Then the letter arrived.
To Mr. and Mrs. J F. Gillis
Grove Hill, Alabama
I am writing you concerning your son, the late First Lieutenant Max Gillis.
Lieutenant Gillis was killed instantly in the vicinity of Cherbourg, France, on 24 June 1944, when struck by shrapnel in the chest and leg. His remains were reverently and properly interred in Grave 95, Row E, Plot F, Joyhawk Cemetery No. 2, St. Mere Eglise, France.
Permit me to express my heartfelt sympathy in the death of your son.Brigadier General, Robert H. Dunlop
In 2022, the United States is once again sending young men like Max Gillis to foreign fields. And like Max Gillis, they carry with them the hopes and dreams of so many. His sacrifice, their sacrifice, made and is making our country what it is today.
That is what we should remember.ν