Fort Polk Memorial Day ceremony honors fallen heroes

By CourtesyJune 6, 2023

Fort Polk Memorial Day ceremony honors fallen heroes
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – After the ceremony, Gold Star Families paid respects to their fallen loved ones. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Polk Memorial Day ceremony honors fallen heroes
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commanding general, and post Command Sgt. Maj. David P. Hanson pay homage to fallen heroes in front of the war on terrorism monument for the Memorial Day Ceremony at Warrior Memorial Park May 25 (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL


By Porsha Auzenne

Public Affairs Office

FORT POLK, La. — First observed after the Civil War, Memorial Day was initially called “Decoration Day.” Families gathered to remember their loved ones killed in service by decorating gravesites with flowers or flags. Each year, on the last Monday in May, this tradition continues across America.

The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk’s annual Memorial Day ceremony was held at Warrior Memorial Park May 25. Gold Star Families, veterans groups, active-duty military units, government officials and the local community gathered to pay their respects. “This ceremony is significant, as thousands of American service members are still deployed in harm’s way at stations around the globe. In major wars, and numerous conflicts throughout the world, on land, sea and in the air, Americans in uniform have made untold sacrifices for the nation,” stated Sgt. 1st Class Jason G. Robinson, ceremony narrator.

“When you think about today, you think about those who sacrificed their life,” said Tim Tilley, director of protocol for Fort Polk. “They got on trains, boats and planes and went to foreign places. They laid down and died for America and that is significant. Here, in just a week from now, we will undergo a once in a lifetime event at Fort Polk where we will be redesignated Fort Johnson. Consider the man behind the name and when you think about his accomplishments — that is a cause for celebration. Today is a day we celebrate those that gave their lives for America so we can be free, and can stand here today.”

Situated in the heart of Warrior Memorial Park stands a monument which honors service members, Families and civilians whose support and sacrifice will forever be remembered.

Col. Michael Jeffries, Fort Polk senior command chaplain, opened the ceremony in prayer.

“The celebration of Memorial Day is maintaining that covenant and promise to our Soldiers and Family members who have gone before us so they will always be remembered. We are not going to forget their contributions and sacrifices to the nation. It’s about maintaining that promise,” emphasized Jeffries.

Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, Joint Training Readiness Center and Fort Polk commanding general, was the keynote speaker for the ceremony.

“In the United States Army, we consider our greatest asset to be our people, especially in our volunteer force. Despite our differences, our common commitment to the defense and love of our country binds us together and unifies us. That bond goes to the heart of what it means to be an American,” stated Gardner. “Today, we remember that the cost of freedom has been paid by so many that have come before us. It was paid on the battlefields here and abroad. It was paid with the futures that were left unlived. Now we must do our share by never forgetting our fallen or missing in action.”

Gardner proceeded to pay respects to the Gold Star Families of Soldiers Pfc. Joshua Burrows, Cpl. Richard Emmons, Capt. Everett Keaton, Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Barhill and Sgt. Marcus Mathes.

“The title of Gold Star Family is certainly not sought; it is reserved for the Families of service members who have died in the line of duty. It is meant to honor the service member’s ultimate sacrifice while acknowledging their family’s loss, grief and continued healing,” Gardner remarked. “The Army is indebted to you, our Gold Star Families. You are the legacy of your service member, and you deserve to be honored for your sacrifice on behalf of our great nation.”

Zach Sawyer, a Gold Star Family member, spoke about how much Fort Polk holding the Memorial Day ceremony meant to him. “The ceremony was special because it showed the Families, particularly the mothers, parents and siblings of the fallen Soldiers, that Fort Polk cares. It shows they are remembered, especially those from the area. It’s good to come to a ceremony where they are honored by name.”

“May we never take for granted the freedoms we enjoy,” Gardner said. “May we always remember those who have given their lives so that we live in peace. May we be inspired to stand together, united as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The ceremony concluded with the traditional rendering of honors to America’s fallen heroes which consists of a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps and the raising of the colors from half to full staff. The playing of taps serves to honor those who have freely given their lives in defense of the nation and helped liberate and ensure the continuing freedom of millions of people around the world.