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Remembering the fallen

fr WW2websterWhen William Guffey’s name was first etched on the stone face of the monument outside the old Webster School — along with those of his 10 fallen classmates — the year was 1951, the wounds of World War II were fresh and his niece Barbara Sutton Bennett was a senior at the school.

Part of the senior class that collected money to erect the monument, Bennett well remembers the day — Feb. 18, 1944 — a telegram arrived informing the family that Guffey was dead. It was devastating. The monument was one small way she could do something to commemorate his life. 

The monument was installed 64 years ago, and last week more than 200 people gathered for Veterans Day to rededicate it, cleaned-up and relocated to be more accessible on the property. As speakers, including Bennett, shared memories of wartime at Webster High School and veterans were honored with roses and poppy pins, the past didn’t seem so far away. 

For Bennett’s family, it was a plane crash that brought grief to their doorstep. Guffey’s crew was tasked with dropping supplies to troops in southeast Asia, and when his plane went down over Burma, only two of the eight crew members survived. 

The story resonated with Ralph Fields, a WWII Army veteran who grew up in Alabama. When Guffey died, he was on his way to bring supplies to Fields’ unit, Fields said.

“They brought us food, weapons, anything like that,” Fields said. “That was the only way we got anything.” 

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As Bennett wrapped up her comments at the podium, Fields, who now lives in Jackson County, approached Bennett. He leaned in and told her how important Guffey — though he and Fields had never met — was to his survival. Bennett opened her mouth in shock and then spread her arms wide for a hug. 

“That’s amazing,” she said when the embrace ended. “Thank you for telling me.” 

As former Webster High School student Joe Rhinehart said, “Webster School is not a school. It’s always been a family.” 

So too, last week’s gathering showed, is this nation’s community of veterans and the people who love them. 

“It is not something that is hollow,” U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows, R-Cashiers, said at the event in reference to military service. “It is something to be honored and cherished and preserved.” 

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