‘It’s not about picnics’: A war widow has a message for Americans on Memorial Day

Updated: May. 24, 2019 at 7:31 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Rachel Clinkscale met her husband Jim when they were just five and six years old.

“We grew up and he went to Korea for a year. When he came back, we decided we’re getting married. So we did,” she says with a gleam in her eye.

It’s been almost 60 years since her husband was killed in Vietnam. That loss, still makes her cry.

“He was career military. He was one of the original special forces. Then one day he came home and said ‘I am going to Vietnam.’ That’s when it really started getting bad. I was 8 and a half months pregnant,” she says, her eyes filling with tears.

Her husband gave his life, trying to save an 18-year-old named Henry Daniel, who was trapped behind enemy lines. Both men were from Alabama.

“He went to Vietnam the first time he was gone for a year. He came home and about another year later he decided he needed to go back. Because there were young boys, 18 years old, in his outfit. He said ‘If I could just keep one of them alive it’s worth it,’” she explains tearfully.

Now Rachel wants Americans to know that Memorial Day isn’t just a day off work, or a time to party with friends. It’s a solemn day to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom.

“It’s not a day to have a picnic. It’s the day to remember those who have given their lives so we can have a picnic. I see the flags flying half mast and this is a way we show them we remember,” she says.

When her husband died, He was 32 years old. Rachel was left to raise their young daughters who were just 12, 10 and 3 years old.

“It wasn’t until they were older that they realized he didn’t leave to go to war because he didn’t love them. He went to war, because he loved them,” she says fighting tears.

She turned her grief into action, becoming a leading member of the Gold Star Wives.

“Ever since then I have worked with Gold Star Wives and with military widows,” she explains. The organization offers support for military widows and their families, helping them navigate the sometimes complicated benefits process, and fighting for military families rights.

Rachel is now very involved with the Alabama National Cemetery, and invites everyone to attend services there Monday.

“We remember those who have given their lives for our country. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about picnics. Its memory and flags flying at half staff. And it’s remembering my husband,” she says.

Ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. at the Alabama National Cemetery on Monday, May 27. The Gold Star Wives will be holding a memorial service at the American Village next door at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

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