HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Following the tradition of a nation that honors its fallen service members on Memorial Day, the Huntsville community and its military organizations were well-represented Monday during the first Memorial Day Commemoration at the Veterans Memorial downtown.
During a program of patriotic music, words of tribute from Army Materiel Command's Commander Gen. Gus Perna and a tribute to Gold Star families, 35 military organizations laid wreaths adorned in red, white and blue, and golden yellow flowers and ribbons, and rendered honors to the fallen."Today we honor the fallen by laying wreaths upon this memorial," Perna said. "The ancient Greeks displayed wreaths at funerals to symbolize the circle of eternal life, and the victory of the spirit over death.
"So, today, Americans do the same. At Arlington National Cemetery. At overseas cemeteries from World War I and World War II. In big cities and small towns, from coast to coast, and here in Huntsville."Although Huntsville has long honored Memorial Day, previous ceremonies have been held at the veterans section of Maple Hill Cemetery. This year, for the first time, the ceremony was moved to the Veterans Memorial. About 300 attended.
Perna thanked the community for its Memorial Day Commemoration, saying it is more than an observance of an important date or a ritual to remember the fallen.
"It is an outward, symbolic expression of a promise that we made to each other and to ourselves, and that we must never forget," he said. "Our promise stands tall to those who have fallen. And that promise is that we will always be here on this day for what they did, and we will always remember to be thankful for our life because of them.
"We will remember those who sacrificed many times before us and those who will make the sacrifice in the future. We will remember all service men and women who will go in harm's way and uphold their promise. We are the land of the free because of the selected brave."
Perna recounted stories that highlight the meaning behind the words "band of brothers," a phrase that is often used to describe service members who go to war together. In Shakespeare's play "Henry the Fifth," there is a scene where an English general is complaining about the small force that he had to fight the French.
"King Henry told his soldiers not to worry about those men who did not come, but to cherish the bond they now share with those who did," Perna said. "Here is what the king said: 'From this day to the ending of the world, we in it shall be remembered. We few … we happy few … we band of brothers.'"
The phrase was also described by theologian Leslie Weatherhead, who once told how strong the "band of brothers" can be when soldiers face death together.
Against his commander's orders, Weatherhead said, a soldier went out to the battlefield to save a friend who was injured. He carried his dying friend to safety and was mortally wounded himself in the rescue.
As the soldier laid dying, he told his commander, "It was worth it. John knew I would come for him. He would have come for me. To bring him back was my honor. To die for him is what I lived for."
At the beginning of the ceremony, Perna laid the Gold Star family wreath with Mac and Lydia Love, parents of 1st Lt. Scott Love, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 and who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The threesome paused briefly at the Global War on Terrorism section of the monument before placing the wreath at the memorial's center below the Medal of Honor tribute wall. Ten Gold Star families were represented at the ceremony and Huntsville's two living Medal of Honor recipients -- Vietnam veterans Mike Sprayberry and Mike Rose -- also attended.
Perna also assisted Emo Furfori, president of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, with laying the coalition wreath as one of the sponsors of the ceremony. The wreath representing the ceremony's other sponsor, the City of Huntsville, was laid by city administrator John Hamilton with assistance from city liaison Beverly Lowe.
"We are a people that enjoy great freedoms, great prosperity and great liberty because of thousands who raised their hand and said 'I will go fight for that freedom and die for that freedom,'" Hamilton, a retired colonel and past Garrison commander at Redstone Arsenal, said during welcome remarks given on behalf of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
Unfortunately, Hamilton said, U.S. citizens easily forget that sacrifice, but it's ceremonies like the Memorial Day Commemoration that help fight the "national amnesia."Besides attending Memorial Day events to remember the fallen, Hamilton asked those in attendance to "remember every single day a little piece of Memorial Day. Those who made that ultimate sacrifice deserve that."
In opening remarks, master of ceremonies Dr. Joe Fitzgerald, the civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for North Alabama, called Memorial Day a sacred day to all Americans and especially to veterans.
"Each year, on Memorial Day, Americans reconnect with their history and their core values by honoring the more than 1 million Americans who have died in our nation's wars," Fitzgerald said. "They died for the freedoms we enjoy today. No more could be done. No more could be given. Their lives taken in war is the price of our nation.
"We need to honor them, for their ultimate sacrifice, and for the values and ideas they stood up for and died defending."