Nearly 200 servicemembers and civilians joined the command teams of the U.S. Army Cyber Command and the Fort Belvoir Garrison at the Cold War Memorial on Long Parade Field May 23 to recognize the sacrifices of the nation's fallen warriors during a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony.
Distinguished guests included Lt. Gen. Rhett A. Hernandez, U.S. Army Cyber Command/2nd Army commanding general; Col. Gregory D. Gadson, Fort Belvoir garrison commander and ceremony host; and Alice Ess, Belvoir Garden Club president.
Lt. Col. Deon Green sang the National Anthem and the U.S. Army Brass Quintet performed during the ceremony.
Donald Carr, Fort Belvoir garrison's public affairs director, provided opening remarks, recognizing the attending Family members of several servicemembers from the area who lost their lives as the result of combat related injuries in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
"We come here today to remember and honor the American Soldier, ordinary men and women, who died while in military service," Carr said. "Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, and what could be a more fitting tribute to the men and women who died in service to their country than a day that gives birth to a season filled with warmth and life."
Carr then welcomed Ess to the podium, whose organization provided the commemorative wreath which was placed at the Cold War Memorial.
"The Belvoir Garden Club is proud to be present again at this ceremony," Ess said. "This wreath will be placed later at the Blue Star Memorial (highways in the United States that have been formally designated by National Garden Clubs, Inc. to honor the U.S. armed forces. The program began in 1945 following World War II; the blue star was used on service flags to recognize a servicemember fighting in the war). The Blue Star Memorial serves as a monument honoring those Soldiers who bravely sacrificed their lives to preserve the freedom of our country, and to thank those who remain so committed to serving our country today. Thank you to all who willingly stand to protect our homes."
Gadson followed Ess with his address, during which he recognized the historical foundation of the Memorial Day holiday and the importance of pausing Monday to reflect of the efforts and sacrifices of America's armed forces.
"I thank those men and women so long ago who imagined the holiday we now call Memorial Day, to designate this time of year to honoring our fallen," Gadson said. "It is a time of renewal and strength. The flowers of the season are beginning to break through hallowed ground to remind us there is hope in the face of hardship. We must take our cue from these symbols of growth and proclaim a day to tell the story for the Soldier who is no longer able to tell it."
Gadson reminded attendees of the great responsibility U.S. citizens have in honoring America's heroes, recognizing their continual efforts to preserve freedom for all.
"The story of this nation deserves to be told," he said. "It's our responsibility as citizens to remember the nation's fallen men and women, whether they died in foreign lands in the heat of battle or after a lifetime in uniform. We cannot forget the men and women who know all too much the cost of freedom, for their service to the country is the greatest gift of all. As we get ready for this long Memorial Day weekend, with barbecues, parades and Family gatherings, resolve to continue the narrative of Memorial Day with your loved ones. After the sun sets, and after the smell of hot dogs and burgers are gone, I ask you to stop and reflect on Soldiers who have paid a price that we will never be able to match."
Gadson then introduced Hernandez as the ceremony's keynote speaker.
"Today is a solemn day because we're here to honor and remember our servicemen and women who died in service to the nation," Hernandez said. "The Memorial Day tradition we are carrying out today is uniquely American. While other countries honor their war dead, no other nation goes to the effort the United States does to recover and pay tribute to its fallen warriors. Those efforts are part of the sacred trust that exists between our nation and our military. That trust says to every military member and every veteran that their sacrifices will not be forgotten; that we will take care of their Families when they are gone, and that they will be remembered."
Hernandez spoke briefly about the history of Memorial Day and commemorated the selfless reasons why our servicemembers dedicate themselves to protecting America.
"Our Memorial Day tradition began in May of 1868 when thousands of people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the first official National Memorial Day," he said. "Today the tradition continues and this Memorial Day millions of American flags will mark the graves of brave men and women at Arlington, 130 other National Cemeteries and at two dozen American Military Cemeteries overseas; nearly 125,000 of America's war-dead rest on foreign soil at American Military Cemeteries overseas."
"Many have questioned why American Soldiers risked everything and performed impossible acts of valor to preserve our freedom and way of life," Hernandez continued. "And why do Soldiers continue to answer our nation's call to duty? If you read their stories or talk to one of the veterans, you will see it was because of faith, belief, loyalty and love. They had faith that what they were doing was right. They believed that our nation and what it stands for is worth dying for. They knew they had the loyalty of their fellow Soldiers and their nation behind them. And they knew they had the everlasting love of their Family, friends and neighbors back home to sustain them. They also knew that we would never forget their sacrifice."
Hernandez closed his address by recognizing the servicemembers who have fallen during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Today we honor our nation's sacred trust to remember all those we lost through war, and we stand with their Families and loved ones," he said. "We especially remember and honor all who have made the ultimate sacrifice during the past 12 years of war--the more than 2,200 who have given their lives in Afghanistan and the more than 4,400 who died in Iraq. More than a statistic, each fallen hero was someone's son or daughter, father or brother. They left behind grieving Families and friends whose lives will never be the same and who deserve our profound thanks and support. This Memorial Day we should also remember the tens of thousands of our Wounded Warriors who will continue to bear the burdens of war."
"Our nation owes a tremendous debt to all our fallen and wounded warriors that can never be repaid. We can, however, continue to remember their sacrifices and honor the sacred trust between our nation and the people who defend her," Hernandez said. "(This Memorial Day), reflect on the freedoms we all enjoy because of the sacrifices of our fallen heroes."
The Memorial Day observance concluded with the placing of the memorial wreath at the Cold War Memorial by Hernandez, Gadson and Ess, with Fort Belvoir Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Chester D. Grelock.