“Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.” Unknown author.
FORT POLK, La. — Soldiers, Gold Star Family members, dignitaries and friends gathered May 27 in Fort Polk’s Warrior Memorial Park to remember those who gave their lives in defense of freedom.
Brig. Gen. David S. Doyle, commanding general, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, was the ceremony’s keynote speaker. He gave a brief history of the phrase “Gold Star Family” dating back to World War I.
Doyle then explained the origins of Memorial Day following the Civil War, called Decoration Day at the time, because Families typically remembered their loved ones by decorating gravesites with flowers or flags, which Doyle said is still done today.
He said the Army considers its greatest asset to be its people.
“That goes to the heart of what it means to be an American,” he said. “However, the cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans.”
Doyle said the cost of freedom has been paid in many ways: On battlefields and veterans’ cemeteries, by futures that never happened when military members made the ultimate sacrifice, and in the nation’s commitment to never forget those missing in action.
“On Memorial Day, we pause in a formal setting to remember the sacrifices of those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen that have come before us, that sacrificed their lives for their country,” he said. “We pause to remember the ‘last full measure’ given by our Soldiers, and that their memory continues in our hearts each day.
“For those Soldiers that didn’t return, Family members, friends and a grateful nation will always keep their memories alive.”
Doyle said the cost of freedom continues to be paid for at places like the Joint Readiness Training Center as its trainers prepare the next unit to deploy on short notice for contingency operations.
“It is a cost — and more importantly — a commitment that we all share when we are assigned to Fort Polk,” he said. “A commitment to provide the best training possible, to stress the leaders and units during their rotation, to try our best to prepare the units for the unknown.”
Doyle said that when reflecting on the past and preparing for the future, we should not pause just on Memorial Day, but every day to remember the bond forged with generations who selflessly served their country and paid the ultimate price.
“From the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, back to the American Revolution, our Soldiers continuously put the welfare of the nation, the Army and their fellow Soldiers before their own,” he said. “We honor those who paid the ultimate price in defense and service to the United States.”
Chap. (Col.) Scott Hammond began the ceremony, offering an invocation. That was followed by the National Anthem, recognition of Gold Star Families and placement of the Installation Wreath by Doyle, JRTC and Fort Polk Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Henry, and Sergeant Audie Murphy Club member Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Perko in front of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Monument.
Perko said he was honored to be part of the installation team that placed the wreath.
“Words can hardly suffice what this means to me,” he said.
“These are brothers and sisters who have fallen. My mind thinks back to that Bible verse that says, ‘No man has greater love than this, than he who lays down his life for a friend.’ That’s what Christ did for us, and these Soldiers did the same thing when they fell.
“I can’t think of any other greater honor than doing what I’m doing here today. It is a huge honor,” he said.
Following Doyle’s remarks, a 21-gun salute was fired by Bravo Battery, 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. The salute was followed by the sounding of “Taps” by Spc. Zachary Farmer, 32nd Hospital Center, and the raising of the National Colors to full staff by Sgt. Shundrieka Jones, 32nd HC.
Juanita Colunga, mother of Spc. Zeferino Colunga, took time following the ceremony to point out her son’s name on the War Memorial Monument to her daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and nieces, who all made the trip from Brenham, Texas..
“This means a lot to me,” she said. “It means my son has never been forgotten.”
Colunga was killed in 2003.
“It was 19 years ago,” his mom said. “Seeing that he’s never been forgotten helps get me through, especially on days like today. I love coming here, to see where he used to work and run around.”
A reception for Gold Star Families was held immediately following the ceremony in the Warrior Center.