Like many other young men who left Pittsburgh during the steel industry’s final throes of the 1980s, Jesse Mercure enlisted in the US Army and found a career and home there. He spent twenty years on active duty and another four as an active reservist before hanging up his uniform. The gleaming golden stripes of his Sergeant First Class insignia attest to a long and competent career as a mechanic.

In 2004, Mr. Mercure completed an intense tour of duty in Iraq.  But now, no longer a military warrior and nomad, he lives quietly in his boyhood home on a winding country road near the forested Ohio state line.  “I’ve lived in Korea, Germany, the Middle East, and so many places in the States that I’ve lost track,” Mr. Mercure says, “but now this is home . . . near the woods, farm fields, and neighbors that I knew as a kid here in Ohioville.  I have plenty of room here, enough for the garden.”

Indeed, the garden will need a lot of room, for each of the 267 seeds he will plant in early June will become a brimming, bright, golden sunflower, each representing a fallen Pennsylvania service member of the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars.  By late summer, the field will be in full bloom. Some of the flowering sentinels will reach ten feet, standing guard against the approaching silence of being forgotten.  They are a constant reminder–we are your countrymen, your neighbors, sons and daughters.

Pennsylvania Iraq Memorial Garden

Bold, bright, and stoic.  “The sunflower is a favorite emblem of constancy,” wrote the American writer Thomas Bulfinch.  A constant reminder of splendor.

“I do this each year to raise awareness and to remind people that our own men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” says Mr. Mercure as he carefully looks over the field where he will plant his 5th memorial garden.  “I also do this as a constant reminder to myself,” Jesse says quietly.

Within days the sunflowers will break through the soil, and one is reminded of that other flowering tribute to our fallen soldiers–among the poppies, lest we forget . . . .

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

In the spring of 2012 we sat down with Jesse Mercure at his home in Ohioville, PA.  The audio interview came on the heels of our visit to the fallow sunflower memorial garden on his rural homestead.   “We’re going to get that garden planted in record time this year,” Jesse commented.  “Each year the job gets bigger, but we also have more volunteers helping us out.  Of course, it helps that we make quite an event out it.  It’s turned into a planting party, barbecue, and community reunion—all in one.”

“Tell me about that.”

“Sure,” Jesse agreed, “but you’ll have to come out and see for yourself.  Everyone’s invited.  Tell your listeners that.”

I think you just did, Jesse.  Now let’s talk about that Harley of yours…

Click below to hear or download the audio version of “Living Tribute.”