Randall recalls time in service

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

Freedom rings on Memorial Day for Clarence Randall Jr.

of Vidalia, La. Freedom is what he celebrates and cherishes today in honoring those who gave their lives to preserve it.

At 87, Randall has had many years to think about wars, peace, sacrifice and freedom. The fallen soldiers he will honor today include those who died on their own soil in the Civil War to set free the slaves who were among his own ancestors.

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For as long as he can remember, Randall, a retired painting contractor and lifelong resident of Vidalia, has joined the traditional march from Vidalia to Natchez and out to the Natchez National Cemetery. Now unable to make the long walk, he still will be among the first to arrive at Memorial Park, corner of Main and Rankin streets, where the 2003 service will begin at noon today.

Randall will speak during the ceremony, telling of Civil War soldiers who fought in a battle at Vidalia. Those who were killed during that battle eventually were interred at the National Cemetery.

&uot;We focus on these soldiers today. They helped to free us from slavery,&uot; he said, explaining that the cemetery is filled with family, friends and comrades of his, also.

He looks forward to the annual service returning to the cemetery grounds in 2004.

A veteran himself, Randall knows first-hand about agony and death in war. He served in World War II, entering service in 1942 and returning home in 1946.

&uot;I wasn’t just a boy when I went. I was a little older than most,&uot; he said. &uot;By that time they were scraping up anyone who didn’t have a crutch.&uot;

From Providence, R.I., to England and then on to France, Holland, Belgium and Germany, Randall marched through Europe with an Army engineer unit.

His unit entered Germany during the last phase of the war there. &uot;It was still mopping-up time when we got there,&uot; he said.

One of his most vivid memories of the war is crossing the English Channel. &uot;I was reminded of the Mississippi River running between Vidalia and Natchez,&uot; he said. The channel didn’t make him seasick, but, rather, homesick.

He recalled the landing craft that transported the group almost to the shore. &uot;Then we had to get out and wade the rest of the way,&uot; he said.

Those who celebrate today may not agree on what war was most important in the nation’s history, Randall said. But every one of them has been important, right up to the most recent war in Iraq.

&uot;It was all for the preservation of our freedom,&uot; he said. And the day honors all men and women who died in combat, regardless of their race, creed, color or religious preference.

&uot;We remember so many who didn’t come home,&uot; Randall said. &uot;We honor and respect them all.&uot;