ATHENS, Ala. – More than 300 members of the local community came together to honor those who paid the ultimate price protecting life, liberty and freedom.
Veterans, service members, local and national government officials, and citizen patriots came out to honor fallen heroes during a Memorial Day ceremony Monday at the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives located in the Limestone County Event Center.
“Alabama has an incredible legacy of supporting the men and women, in and out of uniform, who defend our nation,” said Lt. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. “There are many veterans here today and family members of servicemen and women, and those who have lost loved ones. Thank you for joining us today. We are here to remember, and to pay honors to the military mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters of our fallen comrades, and all the veterans upon whose shoulders we stand. I can’t express how much it means to me, and the members of my team, to share today with you.
“It is both humbling and rewarding to share today’s observance with great citizens like you all,” he added. “Thank you for exemplifying the true spirit of Memorial Day by spending time to honor those who sacrificed their lives for ours. May God bless you, may God bless our military and may God bless America.”
Karbler said as we take time to honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, it is equally important to recognize the loved ones they left behind. He added that we call these individuals Gold Star family members, a tradition that dates back more than a century.
He said that during World War I, families of servicemembers would fly flags with blue stars, representing their loved one fighting overseas and if that loved one was killed in action, the blue star would be replaced by a gold one.
“On Friday, SMDC hosted a Gold Star flag raising ceremony,” Karbler said. “Our headquarters is the only building on Redstone Arsenal authorized to fly the Gold Star flag, which is an honor and a privilege for SMDC to uphold.
“I know that there are several Gold Star family members in attendance with us today. As you join us, please take one thing away from this morning’s Memorial Day service and remember this: You are always part of the Army family; your resilience inspires us; and your family member’s sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
The annual ceremony, which featured a roll call of approximately 100 local veterans who have died since the previous Memorial Day, is sponsored by the Alabama Veterans Museum. The Limestone County Veterans Burial Detail presented the colors and fired a 21-gun salute, while several veterans’ organizations placed floral wreaths.
Many local combat veterans came to the cemetery to pay their respects to their brothers and sisters in arms who gave their last full measure of devotion to fellow comrades and to the country.
“Ceremonies like today bring back memories of a lot of great people,” said retired Col. Donald Woodard. “I’ve had a chance to be around a lot of wonderful people and some of the most I hold in high esteem are those heroes who gave it all. It is a sad time when we lose anyone, for them and for their families, but if we continue to remember them we continue to honor their sacrifice.”
Another veteran thanked the community for hosting the event and said today is another way to show their support for the families who have lost loved ones.
“To see people out and support our troops and their families means everything to me,” said Fred Martin Jr., who served with the 11th Airborne Division in Germany. “I am glad to see everyone who has come out today. It shows we do care for those who have fallen and all they have done for our freedoms.”
One Korean War veteran said he will never forget the friends he lost during the war and today is a chance to remember their sacrifice.
“I lost an up-close friend that joined the Air Force and went to Korea with me,” said Mario Ventura, an Air Force veteran who provided security for F-86 jets during the Korean War. “Today is very special to me. A lot of people don’t understand what today means but to the veterans and families, today means everything.”