Honoring heroes and a sacred trust
May 30, 2012
For families crowded onto the lawn of the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, Memorial Day was not just about barbecues and swimming pools.
The warm morning echoed with the playing of "Taps" and boomed with the firing of a 21-gun salute.
Jessica Campoverde, an Army spouse, sat on the grass with her 2-year-old daughter. As Soldiers approached to place a ceremonial wreath, Campoverde dabbed at her eyes to wipe away tears that welled.
"We have a friend who passed away one year ago," Campoverde said. "This was a way to teach them, our children, what this day is all about."
Brig. Gen. Dennis Doyle, commanding general of William Beaumont Army Medical Center called it a "collective shift" -- the emerging of a new awareness in the United States of the sacrifices made by military members.
"Something has changed about the way Americans now think of their heroes, and that shift transcends politics, cultural differences and religion," said Doyle, speaking during the nearly hour-long ceremony.
Hundreds attended the Fort Bliss National Cemetery Memorial Day Ceremony -- a day honored with the posting of American flags beside rows of white headstones bearing the dates of World War I and II, Vietnam and Korean conflict-era veterans.
"It's really about no matter how divided we are, we're united in celebration for our fallen heroes," said Danny Torres who brought his family to visit the grave of his father, a WWII-era veteran from the Army Air Force.
Initially recognized as a formal observance to honor the dead from the Civil War, Memorial Day is now celebrated to honor all Americans who sacrifice their lives while serving the nation in war.
"Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds to care for him who shall have borne the battle," said Carolyn Howard, Fort Bliss National Cemetery acting director, quoting from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address.
"We are the keepers of a very sacred trust -- Lincoln's call to serve those who have served us," Howard said.
The Fort Bliss National Cemetery is the final resting place for 14 U.S. generals and two Medal of Honor recipients -- Staff Sgt. Ambrosio Guillen, U.S. Marine Corps, and Corp. Benito Martinez, U.S. Army, both killed in action in Korea.
"I think they do it well," said Edward Santa Cruz of the national cemetery and its decorative approach for Memorial Day. A member of the Eagle Club and a retired Army 1st sergeant, Santa Cruz helped to perform a traditional Native American blessing of the memorial during Monday's ceremony.
Waves of community members, Soldiers and families stood in silence as Santa Cruz brushed the smoke from a small cup toward the day's memorial symbols. Jesus Padilla Sr., club president, described the ritual as a special ceremony intended to bless those warriors who served.
Mixed among the crowd of onlookers, Campoverde blended in with her husband, daughter and son.
"I'm happy to see so many people here," said Campoverde. "It's nice to see that they're not just getting ready for a barbecue."