By Joan VaseyJune 10, 2016
Fort Huachuca, Arizona -- Several hundred people gathered at the cemetery on old post to honor the departed Soldiers and Family members on Memorial Day, May 30.
Flags placed on each grave by volunteers fluttered in the breeze and flowers in bloom added touches of color to the rows of white headstones and reminded those who visited that, although the people interred there were gone, they've not been forgotten.
Established in 1868 to honor Civil War Soldiers, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for all those who have sacrificed and died in the service of the nation. In his proclamation to set aside this day, Gen. John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared May 30 "Decoration Day," and directed that homage be paid to "cherish tenderly the memories of our heroic dead who made their breast a barricade between our country and its foes."
Garrison Commander Col. Thomas A. Boone welcomed attendees to the ceremony, thanking those who attended for coming to show support of the "nation's heroes and fallen warriors. John F. Kennedy said the nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but the men it honors and the men it remembers. Today we remember and honor the American troops, who were ordinary men and women who died while in military service, who rose to seemingly impossible highs and did extraordinary things. Those from around the country recognize those men and women who … connect our nation with the past and whose sacrifice we celebrate today.
"This event also represents the tremendous ongoing partnerships with the [Veterans of Foreign Wars] so thanks for your support of this tradition," Boone continued.
"Though our hearts ache for the loss of our loved ones, we find comfort in knowing the legacy that lives on, the security that lets us live in peace, and the prosperity that allows us to pursue our dreams.
"Today, tomorrow and always, let us give thanks to those who have fallen," Boone said.
Following Boone's opening remarks, the Fort Huachuca Select Honor Guard posted the nation's colors and the Military Intelligence Corps Band played the national anthem. After Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Kevin B. Weston gave the invocation, Maj. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca, addressed the audience.
"Help me to remember somewhere, somehow, someone out there died for me today," Berrier said. "As long as there be war, I then must ask 'am I worth dying for?'" he added.
Berrier first shared the story of Maj. Walker, a black Soldier, who, with his wife, are buried in the cemetery on Fort Huachuca and who fought in two wars, World War II and Korea. As a captain in Korea, Walker was captured and perished in a concentration camp in 1954. He was posthumously promoted to major and received the Silver Star.
"On Memorial Day, we honor and retell the stories of brave men and women like Major Walker and keep their legacies alive," Berrier said.
In his message, Berrier reminded people the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor would take place later this year, which also marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, noting the similarities between the two events.
Both events were complete surprises, Berrier explained. Both were catalysts that entered the United States into a war and caused many military and civilian deaths. Both events brought Americans closer together and showcased Americans' tenacity and resilience. Both events brought "unparalleled acts of valor when bold Americans chose to save the lives of Family and friends, comrades and strangers."
The general then shared the stories of two men, a Service member who died in World War ll and a Civilian who perished on 9/11.
Berrier first spoke of a Croatian descendant originally from Herzegovina, Navy Chief Petty Officer Peter Herceg Tomich, who served as the chief water tender on the USS Utah, and his heroic actions remembered today.
On Dec. 7, 1941, while the USS Utah was torpedoed during Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Tomich was on duty in a boiler room. As the ship began to capsize, Tomich remained below securing the boilers and making certain that other men escaped. He yelled to his men, "go topside, you have to leave now." He remained at his post to ensure the boilers would not rupture and explode. In doing so, he lost his life. For his self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and a destroyer was later named after him.
Berrier then told of Rick Rescorla, a Vietnam veteran and Silver Star recipient who co-authored "We Were Soldiers Once… and Young."
After retiring, Rescorla went to work as a Morgan Stanley chief security officer. In 1997, Morgan Stanley moved into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Due to a terrorist attack aboard an airliner in 1988 and a World Trade Center terrorist incident in 1993, Rescorla concluded that an airliner flying into the twin towers was "a real threat and plausible scenario."
Berrier recounted how the former officer pleaded with the company to move, but the company chose to remain in the building. Rescorla then trained employees on emergency evacuation procedures and held fire drills in preparation for a possible eventual attack. When the events of 9/11 transpired, Rescorla "jumped into action" and began emergency evacuation procedures. He continued to evacuate people, returning again and again and was last seen on the 10th floor of the south tower before it collapsed. He is credited with saving many lives.
"Even though he was not an active duty Soldier at the time, he continued to live the Army Values and gave his life for his country," Berrier said.
"Stories like these … are unique and painful," Berrier continued, "but they must be told."
After his presentation, Berrier and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas J. Latter, USAICoE command sergeant major, placed a wreath. Representatives from VFW Post 9972, the Widowed Support Center and Gold Star Families also placed wreaths in honor of the fallen military.
Attendees observed a moment of silence followed by a reading of Grand Army of the Republic General Orders #11, naming May 30 as "Decoration Day," by VFW Post 9972 Judge Advocate Francis H.J. McDonnell. The original order began the annual honoring of war dead. McDonnell also made a short presentation on behalf of the VFW.
The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute by Fort Huachuca's Select Honor Guard, the playing of Taps, a cannon salute from Reservoir Hill, benediction by Weston and retiring of the colors.