FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood service members and civilians paused for reflection on Monday at Memorial Day events across Missouri, where they honored those who gave their lives in defense of the country.
At Missouri Veterans Cemetery - Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe attended a ceremony alongside Maj. Gen. Christopher Beck, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general. Additionally, the 399th Army Band performed, a joint-service color guard posted the colors, a rifle team performed military honors, and U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Quitugua Jr. led the attendees in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Kehoe said it is likely that none of the men and women buried in that cemetery would have wanted this recognition.
“But as we know it, they all deserve it,” he said. “It is appropriate that we take this day in May to pause in humility and thankfulness for those who have defended our nation, even unto death. The relatives of those buried here and across the nation think of their loved ones every day — I know I do. But today, our hope and our prayer is that a grateful nation — as they’re barbecuing, celebrating by the lake or the river, or just mowing the lawn — think of these heroes as well.”
Beck, who assumed command of MSCoE and Fort Leonard Wood on May 19, offered a quote from a famous Missourian.
“In President Harry S. Truman’s first address to the armed forces during World War II, he said, ‘Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices,’” Beck said. “And so, today, we remember, and we honor our fallen service members, along with our Gold Star families, who share in their service and sacrifice…we are humbled by your continued support to our military, and we will continue to stand by you.”
Beck also shared a story from the Korean War that occurred on Aug. 14, 1952, when Cpl. Lester Hammond, from Wayland, Missouri, demonstrated “the valor and bravery of thousands of our heroes.”
“Corporal Hammond was on a reconnaissance patrol behind enemy lines, when his squad was outnumbered and ambushed by a superior force,” Beck said. “Despite being injured in the initial exchange, Corporal Hammond refused to seek shelter and, instead, remained in an exposed location calling for artillery on the advancing enemy. He remained in this position until he was mortally wounded.”
Hammond’s efforts delayed the enemy long enough for his squad to be evacuated, and he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, Beck said.
“This is but one example of a story that we all have somewhere, either we know firsthand, or we have heard from friends and family,” Beck said. “And today is the day where we need to reflect on those. We need to reflect on those heroes; we need to reflect on those people that have come before us and laid the groundwork that we are all here today to honor.”
In Rolla, about 20 Soldiers with the U.S. Army Prime Power School completed a ruck march, with a stop at Veterans Memorial Park to attend a Memorial Day ceremony under the pavilion many of those Soldiers helped construct earlier in the spring as a volunteer project.
According to Staff Sgt. Sean Platts, an instructor and writer for the Prime Power Production Specialist Course, the South Central Regional Veterans Group reached out to the school’s leadership asking for volunteers to help assemble the structure.
“All the classes do some kind of volunteer project, and many times, it’s handing out food, something like that,” Platts said. “I wanted to do something with these students that would be more long term, sustaining — something they could bring their children to in the future and say, ‘Look, your dad built that.’ To me, that’s something that I would be proud of. So, when they reached out to us, we said, ‘we can do this.’”
Platts said he initially assumed the project would be “something small,” but the 50- by 64-foot pavilion — complete with nine trusses that each weigh more than 2,000 pounds — was much larger than expected and took nearly two weeks to assemble.
“These guys are extremely intelligent individuals and extremely capable of doing anything, so it wasn’t a question of whether or not they could figure it out — if you see it, if you go out there and look at it, they did,” Platts said. “That’s the kind of expectation we hold our Prime Power students to.”
Every single person in the class contributed to the project, said Sgt. Daniel Westra, one of the students, who noted many of the tools used were personally owned by members of the class — the larger equipment was provided by the SCRVG.
“We’d never done anything to that scale before, construction-wise, so undertaking a task of that size for the first time — there were a few learning curves,” Westra said. “Each step along the process had its own unique issues, but everyone in the school is pretty resourceful, and we came up with good solutions pretty quickly.”
Glenn Gibson, the SCRVG chairman, agreed, adding that with limited vertical construction experience, the Prime Power class “did an outstanding job.”
“Rolla has its first-ever outdoor meeting place for large groups, which brings attention to our veterans every time it’s used,” Gibson said. “And fittingly, the first time it was used was for Memorial Day. From all of us at the South Central Regional Veterans Group, we thank you for the hard work of coming out there and volunteering your time to do this.”
While Memorial Day means many different things to many different people, Westra — a former Infantryman — offered his thoughts on the holiday.
“Not everybody I started with is still here today, and that’s a big thought on my mind when I think about Memorial Day,” he said. “We have Veterans Day, when we can celebrate our service, the things we’ve done, our achievements — but Memorial Day is for those who gave everything for this country. That’s what it means to me.”
Besides the events at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery - Fort Leonard Wood and Veterans Memorial Park in Rolla, a color guard team, along with members of the 399th Army Band participated in a Memorial Day ceremony in St. Peters; Col. Mark Glaspell, U.S. Army Engineer School assistant commandant, provided remarks at the St. James Veterans Home; and Lt. Col. Andrew Douglass, 787th Military Police Battalion commander, spoke at the Zach Wheat American Legion in Sunrise Beach.
More photos from the Missouri Veterans Cemetery - Fort Leonard Wood ceremony are available on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page.