More than 550 Fort Knox and area residents gathered at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-Central in Radcliff Monday to honor America's fallen service members.
Organizers said the 98-acre cemetery, with more than 4,200 tombstones adorning the rolling green hills, provided a fitting backdrop for the hour-long somber tribute. The ceremony was a combined effort between Fort Knox and Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs officials.
"Across our nation, millions of Americans are pausing to reflect on the meaning of this day," said Brig. Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, and the guest speaker for the event. "It gives us a chance to stop and pay a well-deserved tribute to those brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our great nation to ensure for us the freedoms that we now enjoy."
An organizer of the event noted that although attendance numbers were a little lower than last year's event, a large group of World War II veterans showed up at this one. One of those was William "Earl" Murphy, a 91-year-old veteran who fought in World War II and the Korean War.
Murphy said this was his first time at the Radcliff service and appreciated the outpouring of respect and gratitude he received, not only by those who performed the event, but also afterward by many who patted him on the back, shook his hand and thanked him for his service.
The ceremony opened with several musical numbers by the Heartland Fillies. Members of 100th U.S. Army Band, from Fort Knox, also provided music.
After Evans' remarks, Sergeants 1st Class Golan Perry and Joanna Carter of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command Honor Guard conducted a slow, deliberate flag fold ceremony in which a speaker explained the meaning behind each of the 13 folds of the U.S. flag. They are part of a 22-Soldier team that performs at various ceremonies in the area when needed.
"[This] is one of the best things I could have volunteered for because I've never had the chance to give back to my community like I have here at HRC, being part of the honor guard," said Clark. "Coming out here, watching everybody perform, is just a humble experience. It is not about us. Being able to give back on such a momentous occasion like this means a lot to me."
After the flag fold, Soldiers from 19th Engineer Battalion rendered the highest honors with a 21-gun battery salute. The honor guard then paid respects to American prisoners of war and those missing in action.
The solemn event centered around a table, upon which sat a red rose, empty wine glass, white candle, dinner plate with a pinch of salt and slice of lemon, napkin with utensils, and a service hat for each of the five services that serve in time of war.
Her second time involved in the event, Carter said she wanted the opportunity to do this again.
"This touches a lot of hearts, especially being out here off post where others are able to come and watch us do what we do to honor the fallen," she said.
The ceremony concluded with a wreath laying ceremony performed by Evans and Command Sgt. Major Kenneth Kraus Jr., command sergeant major of Cadet Command and Fort Knox, the playing of taps and the service songs performed by 100th Army Band.
In addition to encouraging those in attendance to salute the fallen warriors, Evans asked that the families of fallen service members also not be forgotten.
"Today, we continue to honor those left behind, those who paid a very personal price for us and our nation -- our Gold Star Families," he said, asking the Gold Star Families to stand for recognition. "We are humbled by your sacrifice, we are inspired by your resilience, and we are grateful for your continued service to our communities."
Evans spanned America's military history and reminded the audience about some of the first casualties of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, concluding by asking people to keep the most recent casualty in their thoughts -- Spc. Gabriel Conde, a 22-year-old infantryman from 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. Conde was killed April 30 by enemy small arms fire in the Tagab District of Afghanistan.
"His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of this month," said Evans. "Specialist Conde was 5 years old when the war in Afghanistan began. It would eventually be the same war that took his life."
Evans urged the crowd to never forget why Memorial Day is so special.
"Memorial Day is about remembering; it's about remembering the women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation, and it's about remembering those they've left behind," said Evans. "Today, in the midst of our mourning, let us remember those heroes. Let us honor them, and let us be grateful that they gave their all so that we may live freely. "We are ever mindful that America is the land of the free because it is the home of the brave."