By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMay 4, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Before the break of dawn, a small group gathered at Veterans Park for a service to honor the fallen during one of Australia's most sacred national holidays.
American Soldiers and veterans joined their Australian comrades to celebrate ANZAC Day April 25 -- a national day of remembrance -- to honor members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I, said Lt. Col. Brenton Mellor, Australian army liaison officer.
"ANZAC Day is a great Australian and New Zealand tradition, and it is celebrated all over the two nations -- and whenever, wherever Australians are overseas," he said during the ceremony. "[The ANZACS] demonstrated, beyond any doubt, the necessary military values of duty, courage, teamwork, resolution and self-sacrifice, and the excellent and unique reputation surrounding ANZAC survives even today in our armed forces."
The ceremony started with the traditional gunfire breakfast at 5 a.m., which symbolized the historic last meal that troops enjoyed before going into battle, and continued as people gathered around the 135th Assault Helicopter Company Memorial, a reminder of the partnership between the U.S. and Australia.
"A great example of this alliance is celebrated in this park and was illustrated in Vietnam in 1966," said Mellor, referring to the monument, which houses the names of five Australian soldiers who are memorialized alongside fallen American Soldiers.
"This unit would be involved in some of the most significant operations throughout the Vietnam Conflict: over five separate bases, accumulating over 121,000 flight hours, operating 147 aircraft. However, as you can see, this came at a price," he said. "There are 36 names of Soldiers and Sailors from both countries etched side by side on the memorial we stand in front of, [as a reminder] of the unrelenting bond that was shared then and is honored today."
Wreaths and flowers were laid at the memorial by representatives of each of the branches, including Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, who represented the U.S. Army.
That representation is important to many, like Jeff Clements, Army veteran, who said it's important that we recognize the accomplishments that the two countries achieve as allies.
"These people fought alongside us and sacrificed just as much as we did, so we owe it to them to honor them and make sure that what they fought for doesn't go forgotten," he said. "I feel like it's my privilege to be able to come out and honor those who fought in service of this country, regardless of where they're from.
"There are a lot [who] don't know about conflicts and wars that our country has been involved in, or with who we fought alongside, like the collaboration with Australia, and it's something that is important to recognize," he continued. "I'm forever grateful to those of all nations who have sacrificed. I'll never forget what they've given."
That level of collaboration and teamwork is what allows Fort Rucker to celebrate an Australian national holiday, which Mellor said must be acknowledged.
"Today is Australia's day -- a day to share and remember with affection the courage of people and the value of friendship, to honor the dead and to acknowledge those who suffer still from the effects of war," he said. "We do not celebrate victory or glorify war -- we celebrate the human spirit, the spirit of ANZAC."