HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Reminders of past Memorial Day ceremonies were present among the veterans, servicemembers, community leaders and attendees who came together May 31 to rekindle Huntsville’s long-standing tradition of honoring the nation’s fallen on its most solemn holiday.
About 300 patriots attended the Huntsville Memorial Day Ceremony at the Huntsville/Madison County Veterans Memorial Park, a ceremony that was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As in year’s past, the ceremony was marked by the placing of wreaths at the memorial representing the community’s Gold Star families, the City of Huntsville, the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, and more than 30 military and veterans groups.
“While Memorial Day may still look different as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing that remains the same are the memories and emotions that go along with this remembrance each year,” Army Materiel Command Deputy Commander and Redstone Senior Commander Lt. Gen. Donnie Walker said in his remarks at the ceremony.
“This day is a reminder that we have within our community, our state and our nation, families who live each day with the painful reminder of a life cut short so each of us can live long in freedom.”
Walker shared the podium with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle at a memorial that honors and respects its fallen heroes as well as its veterans and servicemembers.
The memorial represents the struggle for freedom that defines the nation, Battle said, from the Revolutionary War of almost 250 years ago to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Freedom does reign in our nation and the walls of this memorial point out those who have fought, who have died, who have served this great country,” Battle said. “As we memorialize those who have served and those who have died, these walls are a reminder of the people who have made us a better nation.”
Walker said the memorial and the fallen heroes whose names are etched in its walls are symbols of miltiary values and service, and the sacrifices made for freedom and liberty.
“Of all the military values these fallen heroes displayed, their sacrifice is the ultimate and truest form of selfless service,” he said. “Whether they were drafted or volunteered at a time of war, their commitment to serving our nation defined their lives and deserves our deepest appreciation. This monument is a witness to their duty, courage and sacrifice.”
But, his comments were especially directed to the families of fallen heroes who were in the audience.
“For the families of fallen service members, the military values of honor and personal courage have hit hard in their homes,” he said. “This Memorial Day, like all others before and after, brings to the forefront the loss that they endure every day. Their courage and grace is inspiring to all of us.”
While Memorial Day is a traditional holiday for remembering the nation’s military heroes, it is also a day to honor the nation’s miltiary heritage, military values and those serving in uniform today as well as the nation’s patriotism, Walker said.
“In this community and state, patriotism runs deep,” he said.
“You can hear patriotism in the words of our elected and community leaders who pledge their support to the military missions of Redstone Arsenal and the state’s other military installations. You can see patriotism in the everyday acts of kindness extended to the military families, service members and the nearly 400,000 veterans who call Alabama home. And you can feel patriotism in the way this community honors its fallen – and their families.”
More than 1.1 million U.S. men and women have died in war throughout the span of the nation’s history. Each of the nation’s fallen heroes represent a miltiary story of duty, courage and sacrifice, he added, with some of the stories known and many others left untold.
“But how each of us responds to these fallen heroes says much about the traditions we hold dear,” he said. “I hope each of you, today and every day, live in respect of the memories of those who gave the greatest gift of all – their life for ours, their life for our nation, their life for our flag and the freedom it symbolizes.”
While the nation is one of many differences, Walker said Americans are bound together and unified by love of country.
“That goes to the heart of what it means to be an American,” he said. “As we honor this Memorial Day, I hope the link we have in the loss of our fallen heroes reminds us all how important it is to stand up for liberty and freedom. Today is a reminder of the true cost of war and a reminder to honor those who died while answering the call to serve our great nation.”