WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, May 20, 2007) - More than 3,100 families and friends of servicemembers lost in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered on the grounds of the Washington Monument today to remember their loved ones during a "Time of Remembrance" tribute.
The event, in its second year, was initiated by the White House Commission on Remembrance. Its purpose is to encourage Americans to honor those who died for their country's freedoms by giving something back to the country in their memory.
Family members from all 50 states attended and many traveled from as far away as Guam, Germany and India.
"The families here today paid the highest price a family can pay for freedom - the loss of a loved one who gave his or her life in service to our country," R. James Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs, said during his remarks. "Those of you here today and all of the families of fallen Soldiers will still bear the mortal weight of the final victory."
For Florence Jallah, whose husband, Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Jallah Jr., served during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, words could not describe what the ceremony meant to her and her seven children.
"I can't use words to describe how I feel because the feeling is so profound," she said. "Watching my children here today, remembering their dad in his battle dress uniform or his class As, brings back the memories of him and the kids always asking him, 'Daddy where are you going' When will you be back' Can we come''"
Ms. Jallah's 16-year-old son Quincy was touched that others cared about his father.
"This ceremony means other people care and value what Soldiers have done for our country. That means a lot to me," he said.
His father was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), based at Fort Drum, N.Y. He died of cancer on March 28, 2004 after being medically evacuated from Afghanistan to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington.
While the ceremony's focus centered on troops like Jallah, it also recognized families of fallen servicemembers dating back to 1776, including Kathryn Elise Wolgemuth, a niece of Nathan Hale; and Charles McGovern, whose two brothers, Army officers, died during the Korean War.
Immigrant servicemembers, Foreign Service officers and war correspondents also were recognized during the 90-minute ceremony.
ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, who has traveled to Iraq 12 times to cover the war, served as emcee.
A video presentation, "Charters of Freedom," focused on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The Army's highest-ranking officer, who was 21 when he lost his father during the Vietnam conflict, told the families he thinks of their loss every day.
"As the leader of some of the brave men and women we're honoring today, you should know I carry with me the burden of their loss every day," Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army Chief of Staff and a former commander of Multinational Force Iraq told the group. "Behind every fallen comrade, there's a family that remains an important part of our community."
Gen. Casey and senior leaders from the four other service branches then invited children of the fallen to the stage, where they saluted and consoled the children who had each received the Gold Medal of Remembrance.
Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, read the medal's citation. "For outstanding courage and to remember the ultimate sacrifice of their parents, the United States of American is proud to salute the fallen children of America," he said.
While the leaders met with the children, the U.S. Army Band and Chorus performed "On This Day."
The ceremony came to a close with enlisted members from each branch ringing "The Spirit of the Liberty Bell," an exact replica of the Liberty Bell.
"Taps," played by a solo U.S. Army Band trumpeter, concluded the ceremony.
The White House Commission on Remembrance also is tasked to unite the country in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. each Memorial Day.