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Chrish the memories

The end of Frances Plenert's life was marked By a few paragraphs in a couple of newspapers.

But the story of her life could fill the pages of a dozen novels.

Mrs. Plenert died last week after 89 years of public and Christian service. Folks gathered for a couple of memorial services, and she was buried in the post cemetery at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

And with her, one more opportunity to learn about the horrors and triumphs of World War II from someone who was there passed also.

I spent an afternoon in June 2001 at Mrs. Plenert's apartment in Augusta, looking through scrapbooks and listening to her memories. Hers was one of the dozens of stories that made up a series of World War II articles I helped compile for The Augusta Chronicle. And hers was one that always stuck with me.

Mrs. Plenert spent seven campaigns in the 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. That's a technical way of saying she saw the horrors of war up close - from a frontline surgical nurse's point of view. It's a sterile way of describing 16-hour days in tent operating rooms and hospitals and restless nights in foxhole beds.

She brought back a Bronze Star and a host of nightmares: reoccurring visions of the boxcars of dead at Dachau, Germany, and of the wounded soldier's plight in the makeshift hospitals.

And she brought back a need to serve. In her 60 years of life after World War II, she exemplified the Greatest Generation. She went back into military service for the Korean War, then went into public service as a Public Health Nurse until her retirement in Phoenix, Ariz. After she moved to Augusta 15 years or so ago, she taught Sunday School and was a faithful member of New Heart Bible Fellowship. Those who attended church with Mrs. Plenert were amazed at the strength of her spirit, even as her brittle body began to fail her.

Mrs. Plenert is part of a vanishing resource for today's world. We're losing World War II veterans every day - their experiences, their memories, and, most importantly, their spirit gone forever.

They have lessons for each of us to learn - whether it is how to win a war or savor peace, how to have faith in each other and see the strength in ourselves, how to live with hate and thrive with love.

And more often than not, they are more than willing to share their lives. I count the World War II stories I wrote six years ago as some of my favorite work ever. I'm honored to have met those heroes and their families.

I challenge everyone to seek out those veterans still with us - folks like Roger Reid, Ben Howell, Sr., and several others in our community - and let them share their memories. You'll be better for it, and so will the world they'll eventually leave behind.

Web posted on Thursday, June 14, 2007

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