By Mr. Bryan Gatchell (Benning)May 30, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 30, 2018) - During a rainy morning May 28, Soldiers, veterans and civilians gathered at the Main Post Cemetery at Fort Benning, Georgia, to commemorate U.S. service members who gave everything in service to their country.
The flag was flown at half-staff, and Maj. Gen. Gary M. Brito, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, and Command Sgt. Maj. Scott A. Brzak, MCoE and Fort Benning command sergeant major, laid out the ceremonial wreath at the grave of the unknown Soldier as part of the Memorial Day observance
"Memorial Day can be a difficult time for many," said Brito during his address to the audience. "Often we're reminded of the sadness, which comes from missing our friends, brothers and sisters, and our battle buddies. And although many will enjoy backyard barbecues and many other fun events today, it is wholly appropriate that we gather at our cemetery and others around the country to celebrate and recognize the service of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice."
The Main Post Cemetery at Fort Benning has 8,000 individuals interred, three of whom are Medal of Honor recipients.
Brito mentioned a few of the Soldiers who had died in service and have since become the namesakes of the historic buildings on post, including Spc. 4th Class Donald Johnston, a Medal of Honor recipient who was a mortarman with D Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was a native of Columbus, Georgia, who served in the Vietnam War and on March 21, 1969, threw himself onto an explosive charge to shield six of his fellow Soldiers from the blast, according to his citation.
"It is here where we remember their stories," Brito said of the service members honored Memorial Day. "And although they are no longer with us today, we have every reason to be inspired by their service, their dedication, their leadership, and most importantly their patriotism."
Two other posthumous Medal of Honor recipients mentioned, who are the namesakes of the MCoE and Fort Benning headquarters building McGinnis-Wickam Hall, were Spc. Ross A. McGinnis and Cpl. Jerry W. Wickam.
McGinnis served in 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2006 he threw himself onto a fragment grenade to save the lives of his fellow Soldiers after an insurgent threw the grenade into his Humvee. McGinnis was the second OIF Soldier to receive the Medal of Honor.
Wickam was a Soldier during the Vietnam War serving with Troop F, 2nd Cavalry, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Wickam's armored vehicle was attacked from a concealed enemy bunker, which he charged. He killed two enemy soldiers and saved the life of a fellow Soldier. He charged a second bunker, killing one Viet Cong and capturing another, who provided information on enemy activity. Following an air strike, Wickam and his fellow Soldiers were again attacked, and he charged the bunker so his fellow Soldiers could take cover. He killed two Viet Cong and destroyed the bunker, but shortly thereafter enemy fire mortally wounded him.
Brito took time to reflect on a Soldier within his own command during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"I personally remember the heroic actions of Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, Alpha Company, 1-15th Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 3rd ID (Infantry Division)," said Brito. "His actions saved the lives and prolonged the lives of several others."
Cashe was on patrol in Samarra, Iraq, in October 2005 when his crew's Bradley Fighting Vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. The explosion damaged the vehicle, ignited the fuel cell, and drenched Cashe in fuel. Despite being on fire, Cashe removed all six Soldiers and the body of an interpreter killed in the blast. Cashe's body was burning and he took small-arms fire while he took action to save his comrades.
"'Casheman,' as he was affectionately known, was the most severely injured," said Brito. "But he fought through it to ensure his boys were OK. And in the end, they were not, and Sergeant Cashe was the last to go. But I will tell you, to the very end he asked about 'his fellas' - his words - his team, his brothers-in-arms. That action represents all that the U.S. Army is great for."
Cashe stayed at the scene until he had seen his fellow injured Soldiers evacuated. Four of the six Soldiers died of their injuries, but because of his actions, some of the injured Soldiers were able to be transported to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where they were able to say goodbye to their Families.
"It is Soldiers like these and many others, who gives us very cause to celebrate," said Brito. "This is what Memorial Day is all about. We must remember the lives and legacy of our service members - service members and Soldiers of all ranks - and cherish the gift they continue to give us today.
"Each and every one of them served with honor and distinction," continued Brito. "I am very thankful for the path they laid for me and for all of us, whether they are in uniform or not. We are empowered by their stories of those who have gone before us, men and women who have served their country dutifully and helped shaped our proud identity."
In his speech, Brito outlined that remembering the men and women who died in service to the country was not merely an act of honoring the past but of upholding a proud legacy into the future.
"Adversaries of our nation will test us again," said Brito. "And we will defeat them because we are good and well trained and our legacy and our reputation matter. We owe it to all those in the cemetery today to remember the gift that we have been given and accept the challenge to continue their outstanding legacy of service, leadership and commitment, for without their sacrifice our country would not be what it is today."
A Paver Dedication Ceremony also took place at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus May 28. Pavers are engraved granite plaques with the names of service members lost in the line of duty. New pavers were placed on the Heritage Walk at the museum. Brig. Gen. David A. Lesperance, U.S. Army Armor School commandant, gave remarks at the event.
For photos from both the events at the Main Post Cemetery and the National Infantry Museum, visit "PHOTO ALBUM" in the Related Links section on this page.
For more on the Medal of Honor, visit "US ARMY FEATURE: Medal of Honor" in the Related Links section on this page.
|1||Fort Benning Observes Memorial Day|
|2||Major General Gary Brito Speaks at Fort Benning's Memorial Day Observance|