FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood senior leaders came together with state and local officials, along with the local community, to honor fallen service members Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Missouri Veterans Cemetery - Fort Leonard Wood.
Stacy Wilson, the cemetery’s director and master of ceremonies for the event, welcomed the attendees and spoke on the importance of understanding why Memorial Day is significant.
“I am honored to be speaking with you today on such an important occasion,” she said. “We are gathered here today to continue the legacy of honoring those who fought and died for this great country. Across the generations, and across the centuries, Americans have gathered to honor those who have paid the ultimate price fighting for our freedom. Their sacrifice is a true expression of selfless service, one that no one would pick for themselves. They represent the best America has to offer. We feel their loss in this cemetery and in other final resting places around the world.”
Before his remarks, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe presented Wilson a flag flown aboard the battleship USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Kehoe said Memorial Day “reminds us of the blood that has been shed for centuries in this country, so that we can be here today.”
“These men and ladies are our heroes,” he said. “These men and ladies put on a uniform with the pride to defend freedom.”
Kehoe quoted Florida Congressman and Army National Guard Col. Michael Waltz — a combat veteran — who said Americans should focus on being worthy of the sacrifices service members have made for the country.
“‘You need to be worthy of those who died in conflict, worthy of the men and women in uniform, who are out there right now,’ and his point was, all of us should be an American worth dying for,” Kehoe said. “I could not have said it better. Thank you for those who served and those who serve.”
Maj. Gen. James Bonner, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, spoke on the importance of remembering fallen heroes.
“Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and reverence for us to honor our heroes, who have given their lives in defense of our nation and freedom,” he said.
First observed in the years following the Civil War, and originally called Decoration Day, Bonner said families would remember their loved ones by decorating their gravesites with flowers or flags.
“Today, we continue to honor the lives of our fallen and also those who are with us, our Gold Star families,” Bonner said. “To every Gold Star family member, we owe you a debt of gratitude. We are humbled by your sacrifice, inspired by your resilience and grateful for your continued support to our communities.”
In addition to the distinguished guest speakers, the event included the presentation of military honors by Soldiers from the 3rd Chemical Brigade and the playing of “Taps” by Sgt. Anthony Barnwell, from the 399th Army Band.
Warrant Officer 1 Brian Dorgan, 399th Army Band commander, said the piece of music — which dates back to 1862 — is an important part of military funerals “because it’s the last honor a service member or veteran, both known or unknown, receives and it signals their final call to rest.”
“It’s a call to rest peacefully, knowing that their service mattered and was appreciated by all,” he said. “Every time “Taps” is played, their legacy, regardless of the size or scope of their contribution, will be remembered.”
Missouri Veterans Cemetery - Fort Leonard Wood is one of five cemeteries currently in operation by the Missouri Veterans Commission. It was dedicated in 2010, and covers 229 acres outside the west gate, off Polla Road. It is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays; it is closed on weekends and state and federal holidays.
Visit the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page to see more photos from the event.