FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Fort Benning paused to honor the nation's fallen service members with a Memorial Day ceremony that proceeded in dignified military order among the white grave markers and tree-lined lawns of the post's cemetery May 27.

The 9 a.m. ceremony at the Main Post Cemetery went forward under bright but partly cloudy skies, with an audience of some 200 Soldiers and civilians seated outdoors.

It was a serene, reverential morning, during which Fort Benning's Maneuver Center of Excellence Band sounded forth the slow tempos and rich harmonies of traditional hymns like "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Nearer My God To Thee," and "Fairest Lord Jesus."

And it was a morning for words that would help the audience reflect on the meaning of America's Memorial Day.

"On Memorial Day we take time to remember our military servicemen and women who were brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, or friends, fallen in combat, those who served honorably, and we also remember those civilians that supported the military as well," said the ceremony's keynote speaker, Col. Dawson Plummer, Director of MCoE's TRADOC Capability Manager, Armor Brigade Combat Team (TCM-ABCT).

"The liberties we have today," Plummer said, "were paid for by those buried here around us, by the millions of marked and unmarked tombs and monuments, spread throughout this nation and even overseas. Also for those still missing in action, where the only thing we have are memories passed on by relatives or friends...

"When we say these people gave their lives to make this nation great, I had to pause and really think about what that meant to me," Plummer said. "The thing that came to mind was that one of the many things they all had in common was selfless service to our nation."

He then went on to recount briefly the stories of several of those buried at Fort Benning.

After Plummer's remarks the ceremony's narrator asked the audience to stand for the laying of a wreath "in tribute to all the nation's veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice."

The wreath was composed of red, white and blue flowers and adorned with a coil of red-white-and-blue striped ribbon with white stars on the blue stripes. It was mounted on a thin, triangular stand.

Now, two Soldiers, a lieutenant colonel and a command sergeant major, bore it, with its stand, to a spot on the pale green grass near a large oak tree, where they placed it before a headstone marked "UNKNOWN."

From the start of the ceremony, a ceremonial firing party of Soldiers with M4 rifles had been in position some distance from the audience.

With the wreath in place, the firing party fired a rifle salute of three rapid volleys that broke the calm with a thin, metallic crack, after which a bugler sounded "Taps."

The band then played "America the Beautiful," and the ceremony concluded after a chaplain pronounced a benediction.

Among those who'd been in the audience were three 16-year-old boys, each the son of a current or retired career military officer, who said they'd attended the ceremony out of respect for those who've served in the nation's military. The three were John Cushing, Thayer Jones, and Jacob Tegtmeier. Each said he hopes to serve in the Army, continuing a family tradition that spans generations.

"I came because I believe it's important to respect those who came before you," said Jones, a student at Columbus High School in Columbus, Georgia. "It reminds us that everything we have should never be taken for granted. 'Cause someone had to pay a price to give it to you."

Jones said he believes many younger Americans today "don't really fully appreciate what we have. And we don't really look back and think of the countless men and women who have stood in perilous conditions who have given it their all" while in military service.

"And by looking back and coming to these events," he said, "we reflect on what they did and on what we as a country have been given."