The 80-acre Fort Bliss National Cemetery was awash in red, white, and blue as Fort Bliss joined the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Borderland for a Memorial Day observance in northeast El Paso, Texas, May 30, 2022.
In the wake of relaxed COVID-19 protocols in comparison to previous years, the event was the first Memorial Day ceremony open to the public at the national cemetery since 2019.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Williams, the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss command sergeant major, was in attendance for the ceremony, along with other Bliss leaders and Soldiers, as well as civilian dignitaries, veterans, supporters, and families, as the VA, with help from Team Bliss, marked the solemn occasion.
Colonel Thurman McKenzie and Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Devot, the 1st AD Artillery commander and command sergeant major respectively, formally represented Fort Bliss at the cemetery rostrum and for the ceremonial wreath placement.
McKenzie, a West Point graduate, said the “cost of freedom” surrounded everyone at the cemetery that morning, which made Memorial Day more than just the unofficial start to summer.
“Within these hallowed grounds lay men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the ideals that set our nation apart from all others on the face of this Earth,” he said. “Amongst all of the reveling, we dedicate today to deliberately remember the many who have traded their lives for the freedoms that we now enjoy.”
Soldiers from the 1st AD Band performed a set of traditional music, and artillery troops from 1st AD DIVARTY fired the ceremonial cannon volleys from the adjacent Fort Bliss main post.
The Fort Bliss National Cemetery is one of seven national cemeteries founded between 1934 and 1939, but dates back to the mid-19th Century as a place of internment.
The debated origins of Memorial Day began during the Reconstruction Period and stems from Decoration Day, when the families of fallen Civil War troops adorned their graves in memoriam of the fallen’s sacrifice.
“From those dark times,” McKenzie said, “it was the families who were honoring their dead that began to bring the light of Reconciliation. The informal honors led to the first formal Memorial Day observance in Waterloo, New York, on May 5, 1866. Since then, with each passing year and subsequent conflicts, we continue to honor our troops.”
Though noting the importance for formal acknowledgement of the sacrifices of the fallen – the “holiday” that is Memorial Day – McKenzie said the real monuments to those who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice aren’t made of bronze and stone, but instead, of flesh and blood.
“We’ve awarded medals to many Soldiers, added their names to monuments, and named buildings for them to honor them for their bravery,” McKenzie said, “but nothing could ever replace the hole left behind by a fallen service member and no number of medals and ribbons can comfort the ones left behind.
“Those of you who have lost someone in service to our great nation carry on your Soldier’s message, raising up his or her memory like an unfurled flag,” he said. “Today, we too honor each of you. You, the Gold Star Families of those lost bear an unfathomable burden. We cannot thank you enough and owe you a debt of gratitude.”
For more information on the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, visit https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/ftbliss.asp.