Service to country is a long-held tradition in the United States.

That was the message Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commanding general of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the Military District of Washington, shared with the audience during the installation's Memorial Day Remembrance and 27th Annual Massing of the Colors on Sunday at the Pavilion.

"Service to country is what our nation was founded on and truly what sets us apart from all others around the world," Linnington said. "When we think of patriotic service, we think of men and women that devoted their lives to the love of country and improving the lives of everyday citizens."

Linnington was the keynote speaker for the two-hour event, which was hosted by the garrison and the General George G. Meade chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars.

Highlights of the ceremony included a performance by the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps from the MDW, a reading of the preamble to the constitution of the MOWW and a 50-minute concert by the Concert Band and Soldiers' Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band.

Gold Star Family members who attended the ceremony were acknowledged for their support of the military and their sacrifice.

During the massing, the MDW Armed Forces Guard and more than 45 military, civic and youth organizations presented their respective colors.

"I loved it; I thought it was fabulous," said Richard Lane, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, who attended the event for the first time. "I will certainly come again and bring family."

In his introduction of guest speaker Rep. Donna F. Edwards and Linnington, Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein noted that the families, friends, neighbors and members of the Fort Meade community who support service members are what "Team Meade is all about, and it's truly exemplified here."

Edwards, whose great-great-grandfather, grandfather, father and brother all served in the military, said, "Freedom is only as good as those who are willing to serve."

In his remarks, Linnington said the display of the American flag inspires patriotism and pride in the country, and encourages citizens to serve in their own special way, whether it be through active-duty service or volunteer service through military and civic organizations.

The general thanked the members of the military and civic organizations in attendance for their continued support of the military.

"All of you, and I mean that sincerely, are living proof that patriotism is alive and well, and that you understand its importance in keeping our nation strong, free, a model of democracy and a symbol of strength around the world," Linnington said.

He also asked the audience to consider the true meaning of Memorial Day.

"How shall we celebrate the men and women who dedicated their lives to the cultivation and harvest of our most precious crop known to man - our freedom," Linnington said.

Memorial Day to him is not a day of solemn mourning but a day of "reverent celebration," he said. "... We must all never forget the price of freedom is high. Freedom indeed is never free.

"On this Massing of the Colors prior to Memorial Day weekend, let's honor the sacrifices of men and women and their families as we celebrate, rejoice and remember those presently serving and those from our past."

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Arthur Cooper, past president of the Retired Enlisted Association, has attended the event for a decade.

"I know of no more appropriate way to express our appreciation for the freedoms given us by those making the ultimate sacrifices," Cooper said of the ceremony. "The general's statements were admirably stated and to the point, for we realize that freedom is not free but because of the blood of our past military."

Kathy McCurden, a member of the Ladies Auxiliary, Fleet Reserve Association, Branch 24 in Annapolis, said she was impressed as well.

"It was a great experience; I'm honored to participate," she said. "It feels like the right thing to do."

D'Andre Demps, a sophomore at Meade High School who is enrolled in the school's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, helped to carry the unit's colors during the massing.

D'Andre said he plans to embark on a military career like his deceased uncle, who was an Army colonel.

"I'm going to serve my country and make my father and uncle proud," he said. "I can assure you of that."