Memorial Day brings call to recommit nation’s promise

By Christine MitchellMay 28, 2024

Huntsville Memorial Day 2024
Veterans carry and lay a wreath at the 2024 Huntsville Memorial Day ceremony (U.S. Army photo by Eric Schultz) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Hundreds of community citizens, leaders, veterans and patriots showed up in full force May 27 to honor the nation’s fallen service members at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Huntsville.

In her welcoming remarks, Kris McBride, Alabama’s civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, reminded the audience that Memorial Day was originally and unofficially known as “Decoration Day,” a day which signified an annual act of remembrance. On Decoration Day, community members would visit cemeteries, memorials and gravesites, clearing away the dirt and debris from those hallowed markers. It was a time to decorate those personal memorials.

“This tradition carries on in our community today,” McBride said. “This very memorial reminds us every day that freedom isn’t free.”

In the audience, some community members watched from lawn chairs while others passed out water bottles. Patriotic colors filled the park, evident of a community with longstanding military pride and the desire to reflect, celebrate and connect.

Lt. Gen. Chris Mohan, Army Materiel Command’s deputy commanding general and acting commander, used a portion of his keynote remarks to apply some humbling perspective.

Huntsville Memorial Day 2024
Lt. Gen. Christopher Mohan, AMC DCG and acting commander, provides keynote remarks at the 2024 Huntsville Memorial Day ceremony (U.S. Army photo by Eric Schultz) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

“From the Revolutionary War until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 1.1 million Americans have died fighting for and defending our freedom,” he said. “During that time, it’s estimated that between 500 and 600 million Americans have lived. Think about about—a little more than a million Americans secured, safeguarded, and then sacrificed, for the lives and freedoms of 600 million.”

Mohan said we may never be able to repay that debt, but that we can and should do our duty to remember them, and “that’s what Memorial Day is all about.”

The program included words of tribute from community and military leaders, an impromptu collective singing of the national anthem by everyone attending, and a display of laid wreaths from at least 40 local military organizations adorned in flowers and ribbons. Each wreath is specially carried and placed around the memorial during the ceremony.

Gold Star families, who have lost family members during service, were recognized throughout the ceremony for their sacrifice. They were honored with the laying of two wreaths at the beginning of the ceremony—the Gold Star Families wreath and the Gold Star Mothers wreath— and Mohan also directly addressed them in his remarks.

Huntsville Memorial Day 2024
Gold Star family members carry and lay a wreath at the 2024 Huntsville Memorial Day ceremony (U.S. Army photo by Eric Schultz) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

“We lay a wreath, evergreen, as both a symbol of the eternal circle of life, and a symbol of our promise to never forget them or the sacrifices that they made,” he said. “And we also remember those they left behind…their families. Gold Star families are the reason ceremonies like this are happening across the country. We will not forget, and we will not step back from our responsibilities as a nation.”

Not only the wreath-laying ceremony, but the sheer number of organizations and families participating by laying wreaths, is what sets this commemoration apart from others, according to COL Stanton Trotter, AMC command chaplain, who also provided the invocation for the ceremony.

“This is one of the best Memorial Day ceremonies I’ve attended in any community throughout my career,” he said. “It’s overwhelming to see the participation, the many people who make an effort to be here.”

Mohan asked the audience to join him in using Memorial Day as a day to recommit ourselves to the promise we make as Americans—to remember.

“From Flanders Field to Normandy, in big cities and small towns, and right here in Huntsville, our nation pauses to remember and honor our fallen warriors,” Mohan said. “On this beautiful day here at this beautiful memorial this community built for this very purpose, let’s recommit ourselves to those promises.”