By Mr. Kevin Stabinsky (IMCOM)December 17, 2010
The names of Georgia's fallen Soldiers will never be forgotten. That was the message of the Fort McPherson Soldier Tree ceremony on Hedekin Field Dec. 8, which honored more than 200 Georgia servicemembers who lost their lives.
"We dedicate the Soldiers Tree to our fallen comrades and to keeping alive the memory of the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country," said Col. Deborah Grays, U.S. Army Garrison commander. "There is a reason they call what Soldiers do 'service.'"
For giving their all, Grays said it was important to honor those who gave their lives, not only for their legacy, but also for their Families.
"The greatest compliment I got from a Family member was 'Thank you for not forgetting,'" said Grays. To remember the fallen, each name was read aloud, with attendees taking the time to attach a red ribbon, symbolic of the blood spilled in love of country, onto an evergreen tree, a symbol of freedom that lives on generation to generation.
The most important symbol for people to remember when looking at the tree is that each of the bows represents a servicemember - a person who gave their life to defend the country, said retired major general William Johnson. "It is the least we can do," he said.
One of those servicemembers was the son of Johnson's friend, Sandra Swafford: Pfc. Clint Swafford, who was killed in Iraq last year. "He did what he could for freedom," Swafford said. The ceremony, she said, was a chance for her to remember her son and to show respect and honor to him and others.
Though she admits that she still has problems getting over her loss, she said remembrance ceremonies like the Soldier Tree helps her find support and acceptance. Similar sentiments were shared by Kathy Booth, mother of Master Sgt. Stephen Walker Booth, who was killed in a motorcycle accident along with his wife, Dawn.
Stephen spent two tours in Afghanistan and three in Iraq. "You never forget. The wounds never heal, but it is a nice tribute to them," she said.
More importantly, the ceremony was good for the two children, Rhyan, 9, and Garret, 7, Dawn and Stephen left behind. "It's good for the kids to know their parents are not forgotten," Booth said. Throughout the grieving process, Booth and Diane Mclendon, Dawn's mother, said the Army has been very helpful. "They've always been supportive," Mclendon said. "I can pick up the phone anytime and say 'I have this problem' and get help."
Booth agreed, saying, "I appreciate the support the Army gives us and the children."
Inviting the Families to take part in the ceremony was just another way to show that support, Grays said. "We honor you today and through ceremonies such as this," she said. Such respect and honor, Grays promised, would continue. "Know that you are always in our hearts and prayers," she said. "You are a reminder that freedom is never free. We will continue to support, embrace and pray for you."