By Ms. Tiffany D Wood (Leonard Wood)June 1, 2017
The quiet commands and footsteps of the Joint Services Color Guard could barely be heard over the wind Monday as they presented the colors at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery -- Fort Leonard Wood Memorial Day Ceremony, signifying the start of the program.
Nearly 500 people immediately stood to attention, removed their veterans service organizations hats and placed their right hands in either salutes or over their hearts while the colors passed by.
They remained standing while Capt. Tony Cech, Army chaplain, delivered the invocation, Staff Sgt. Mark McMurray, 399th Army Band vocalist, performed the national anthem and area youth groups led the Pledge of Allegiance.
After the colors were posted and the audience seated, Maj. Gen. Kent Savre, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, provided the keynote speech and explained the ceremony's significance.
"It is important that we understand that this ceremony is not intended to recognize veterans like you and I," Savre said. "Today is dedicated to the brave men and women that once left home, but will never again return."
Memorial Day, he said, is a day to remember and honor Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coastguardsmen who are "forever absent because they made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our freedom, that we are forever indebted to."
According to Savre, every fallen service member has an "incredible" and "unique" story with some beginning "right here in the heart of America."
These stories, he said, "remind us that freedom isn't free. It comes with a heavy price and we owe so much to the generations of heroes who sacrificed everything they had, not for glory or gratitude, but for something greater than themselves."
Following Savre's speech, members of the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri unveiled and dedicated Missouri's 101st Blue Star Memorial.
According to Shirlee Roberts with the Sunbonnet Garden Club in Lebanon, the Blue Star Memorial Program began with the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs planting 8,000 Dogwood trees in 1944 as a living memorial to World War II veterans.
Today, memorial markers and by-way and highway markers are used at locations, such as national cemeteries, parks, veteran's facilities and gardens, to honor all men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
"The Blue Star became an icon in World War II and was seen on flags and banners in homes for sons and daughters away at war, and in churches and businesses," Roberts said. "This program has been active all through the years to the present, a fitting tribute to our Armed Forces and especially now."
After a presentation of military honors conducted by a rifle team with the 1st Engineer Brigade and the playing of "Taps" by Spc. Jeffrey Spenner, 399th Army Band bugler, the ceremony concluded when the color guard retired the colors and their quiet commands and footsteps faded away.