By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMay 31, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker honored the more than 1.2 million service members who gave their lives in service to the nation since the Revolutionary War.
The Fort Rucker Memorial Day Ceremony was held at Veterans Park May 25 where people paid respects and honored not only the service members who sacrificed, but the families of those who paid the ultimate price for the nation.
"Each of those heroes had families and cherished loved ones and friends, and each was a loss, not only to that family, but to a community and to our nation," said Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general. "We owe the survivors and the families of our fallen heroes a debt of eternal gratitude, and we renew our pledge to continue to honor and support them."
During the ceremony, Gayler, along with CW5 Joseph B. Roland, chief warrant officer of the Aviation Branch, and Command Sgt. Maj. Brian N. Hauke, command sergeant major of the Aviation Branch, laid a wreath in honor of fallen service members.
"On this day, we honor the ideals and the values of those Soldiers -- what they stood for and what they died for," said the commanding general. "That spirit of remembrance is alive and well throughout the Wiregrass, and we are blessed to live here.
"All across our nation the flowers of the season are beginning to break through hallowed ground, and it is symbolically proclaiming that there is hope in the face of hardship -- that there is life to be remembered where the stem meets the soil," he said. "It's their stories that form the fabric of this nation, and it's their stories that deserve to be heard, deserve to be remembered and deserve to be honored, not only on this day, but every day."
Memorial Day began after the Civil War, and was borne out of a need to heal a wounded nation that had been "ripped apart by conflict," said Gayler.
President James Garfield spoke at the first Decoration Day at Arlington Cemetery in 1868 and said, "I love to believe that no heroic sacrifice is ever lost. That the characters of men are molded and inspired by what their fathers have done -- that treasured up in American souls are the unconscious influences of their great deeds."
Gayler said those words still resonate today and paved the way for the first Memorial Day in 1882.
"I believe those men and women who so long ago imagined this holiday knew what they were doing when they designated this time of year to honor our fallen," said the commanding general. "It's a time of renewal and strength after a winter of loss and silence. They must have imagined the flowers -- millions blooming -- to represent the million or more lost in battle.
They must have imagined the opportunities to tell the stories of the past to the American people."
For Donna Hallock, Gold Star Family Member, the day is just that -- a time to be able to talk about and share the life of her brother, Sgt. 1st Class William T. Butts, who was killed during Desert Storm when his helicopter was shot down over Iraq in 1990.
"I enjoy coming out and it's kind of good therapy for me being with other Gold Star Family Members -- I try to help them, and they turn around and help me," said Hallock. "Survivor outreach services is a great opportunity for us Gold Star Family Members because it not only gets us together to help us grieve, but it helps to talk about the person who was (lost)."
Hallock said that during the time when her brother was killed, there was not much in place as far as programs to help grieving family members, but she's glad to be able to be part of SOS even after nearly three decades.
"They didn't have anything back in 1991 when we were notified, so it was hard for me, and this is just something that I enjoy doing and getting out to talk with other (family members)," she said. "I love Fort Rucker. They go all out for Gold Star Family Members and I get a lot of support."
Following the ceremony, people were invited to lay flags at the various monuments in the park, and Gold Star Family Members were invited to a reception at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum where they got the opportunity to meet with USAACE and Fort Rucker senior leaders.