FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- To celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer, many community members spent the long weekend recreating with Family and friends cooking out, camping out and enjoying the onset of vacation season on various area lakes.

In many Wiregrass communities, however, May 30 was reserved for more somber events of tribute.

Community events on Fort Rucker, as well as Ozark and Dothan, commemorated Memorial Day with patriotic ceremonies honoring the nation’s fallen servicemembers " those brave warriors who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that others could spend the weekend in a free country safe from tyranny and persecution.

Col. James Macklin, Air Traffic Services Command and 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group commander, set the solemn tone for the weekend at the Aviation Museum on post May 26 by thanking Soldiers, Family members, community members and civic leaders for the opportunity to, “collectively stop to consider those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation, our ideals and our way of life.”

“And on this day, I think it’s important to consider, too, the Soldiers of our coalition partner nations who have fought and died alongside our American troops,” he said.

Macklin remembered, too, the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I.

“Memorial Day is a tradition we have honored since the years following the Civil War, and it is essential that we not lose sight of its importance. Just this past February, the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, Corporal Frank Buckles, passed away,” he said.

“What a phenomenal man he was, having served in the ambulance corps in the first world war, where he fulfilled the noble duty of aiding the wounded and collecting the remains of the dead from the battlefield,” Macklin continued. “Frank Buckles continued to pay the high cost of service to his nation during the Second World War, when he was captured by the Japanese as a civilian aboard a shipping freighter.

“Sadly, our nation lost an important remnant of our history when he passed, but his legacy stands as an example of duty, honor and faith. For it was faith in his country, in his fellow Soldiers and U.S. citizens, that sustained Frank Buckles through three years in a POW camp, enduring unimaginable hardship " faith that those back at home would not forget him,” Macklin said.

While noting that nearly 5,000 U.S. and coalition forces personnel have died in Iraq, fighting in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since 2003 and more than 2,000 U.S. and Coalition Forces personnel have died in Afghanistan, fighting in support of Operation Enduring Freedom since 2001, Macklin struck a chord with the audience by reminding them that statistics don’t begin to tell the story.

“The problem with statistics is that they begin to lose meaning with repetition. Numbers are faceless, but we are talking about people, not numbers. Every one of those people belonged to someone, had someone waiting back at home. (They) had mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and children whose lives will never be the same again, who must find the courage and strength to carry on without their veterans,” he said.

“Remember those who fought and died for our precious way of life, who made the ultimate sacrifice, and remember also the families they left behind who are still paying the price,” Macklin said in conclusion.

Two of those still paying the price attended a similar ceremony on Memorial Day, Monday, at Woodlawn Memory Gardens in Ozark. Sponsored by Disabled American Veterans Chapter 94, the annual event hosted, among others, mothers of Soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan: Yolanda Brooks, mother of Sgt. Curtis E. Glawson, and Martha Evans, mother of Staff Sgt. Jerry Evans Jr.

Also in attendance at the Ozark ceremony was Alabama Rep. Martha Roby, who commented on the day’s significance.

“It is fitting that today Americans from sea to shining sea will pause in simple, solemn ceremonies like this to pay tribute…and quietly thank all those who have fought for freedom,” she said. “Today, we remember heroes like Lieutenant Woodie McVay, who in 1944 was shot down over Saipan in the Pacific. For 65 years he was listed as missing in action. Just two years ago, his body was brought home to Mobile for the proper burial he deserved.

“And, we remember heroes like Pfc. Stephen Bicknell, a high school quarterback from Prattville. He was killed five years ago in Samarra, Iraq, when his Humvee struck a landmine. Only 19, he left a wife and small child at home,” she continued.

“There are countless others whose sacrifice bears remembrance. We must also take time today to thank those who are still with us " the spouses, parents and children who have lost a loved one,” Roby said.

She also spoke of the world’s best equipped and trained military.

“Today, the United States military is the most battle hardened fighting force in history. Its strength is unmatched. Its fury is unequaled. Its presence strikes fear into the hearts of evil doers around the world,” she said. “It is true that our Army has the best tanks and helicopters, our Navy has the biggest ships, and our Air Force has the most advanced airplanes.

“But it is not technology that makes our military the best. It is the people, she said. “The fallen heroes we remember today helped make America a beacon of freedom and democracy for all the world to see. That, we must never forget.”

To conclude the ceremony, Roby and state Sen. Harri Anne Smith deferred the ceremonial laying of the wreath to Brooks and Evans.