JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- As about 350 people slowly filed through the dense forest of Douglas Fir trees lining the approach to the Camp Lewis Cemetery gates May 27, America's I Corps Band played patriotic selections such as "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "America the Beautiful."

The occasion is one observed by the joint base community every year: Memorial Day -- when those who gave their last full measure of devotion to the nation are remembered by those who live.

Inside the gates, the colors were posted by the I Corps Honor Guard and the invocation was led by Chaplain (Col.) Timothy Shepherd, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division's brigade chaplain, before Col. Nicole Lucas, JBLM Garrison commander, addressed the crowd.

"Memorial Day is a national day of awareness and reverence," Lucas said. "It's a special day we set aside each year to honor America's fallen heroes: those military men and women who gave their lives in defense of our nation. It's a day we remember their lives, courage, legacy and service."

Lucas said depending on who you ask, the day has many different meanings. It's hard not to get caught up in the hoopla of Memorial Day weekend, even as a military member, she said.

"But frankly, we do disservice to our nation and its veterans if we don't pause and recognize Memorial Day for what it truly is," Lucas said, calling the occasion an opportunity to tell the stories of those who are no longer with us.

Since the 2018 observance, 35 Americans died while supporting operations overseas, she said: 26 Soldiers, three Airmen, three Marines, two Sailors and one Department of Defense civilian. They died while serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Qatar, Somalia, Djibouti, United Arab Emirates and Kosovo.

The legacies of four of the service members who died -- all from Washington state or JBLM -- were read: Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor James Galvin from Spokane, Army Sgt. Leandro Antonio Sleeper Jasso from Leavenworth, Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond of Brush Prairie and Army Sgt. Cameron Alexander Meddock, of Spearman, Texas.

The ceremony included a wreath laying in remembrance of those unknown and missing, as well as a 21-gun salute and playing of "Taps."

Afterward, the crowd dispersed, lingering to read tombstones across the one-acre plot that serves as the final resting place for hundreds of service members, spouses and children of military families, veterans and former POWs from the world wars.

The Correll family has been coming to the ceremony for the past couple years. Retired Army Master Sgt. Dan Correll said he and his wife and children talked in the car about the day "not being a happy Memorial Day but a time to be reverent and to think about those who sacrificed for us," he said.

Correll's son Matthew, 11, asked him about Gold Star families, and the two talked about the sacrifices those families have made.

"(Memorial Day) is important because we're remembering the Soldiers who fought and died in wars," Matthew said.

His sister Claire, 9, recalled learning Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day and was first observed every year on May 30, until the observance was moved to the last Monday in May.

"It means to remember all of those who have died fighting in the military," Claire said.

Sergeant Frank Laporta, religious affairs specialist with the 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and his wife Andrea brought their three children to the ceremony.

Aria, 7, Vinny, 5, and Olivia, 1, are being taught young to remember the fallen -- specifically, a friend of the family who passed away. Andrea said it's now a family tradition to come together to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"We wouldn't have the freedom to be here today without them," Frank Laporta said.