By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)May 31, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Fort Sill paused to honor those who gave their lives for the freedoms Americans enjoy with a ceremony in front of McNair Hall on Memorial Day.
All the pillars of honor at Fort Sill, to include the 77th U.S. Army Band and B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery, the "Salute Battery" along with veterans from all four service branches, elected officials, and Lesley J. McNair Post 5263 Veterans of Foreign Wars and Army leaders attended. Soldiers from the 428th and 434th FA brigades, the 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade and the Marine Corps Artillery Detachment comprised the flag detail, color guard and wreath handlers.
With a garrison flag riding the intermittent breezes of a sunny day, the heat held off to give all gathered time to remember and appreciate those who served and those who died paying the price for freedom.
214th Fires Brigade Chaplain (Maj.) Alva Bennett delivered the invocation calling God the "author of our liberty and the protector of our land." He concluded by asking for "blessings on the families of our fallen heroes, on all service men and women now serving and on our beloved country."
Ray Joe-Lynn, VFW Post 5263 adjutant, read the orders first given May 5, 1868 from Headquarters, the Grand Army of the Republic, Washington D.C. Those orders called for May 30 to be a day "designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion."
Further they called for posts and commanders in their own way to conduct services and testimonials of respect and to guard the graves with sacred vigilance as a fitting tribute to the memory of the country's slain defenders. The orders reminded all to treat war dead with the utmost in respect and reverence, and to maintain those places where people would come together to pay their respects.
"If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack and other hearts turn cold in the solemn trust, our's shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remains to us. Let us then at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime. Let us rise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor," said Joe-Lynn, reciting from the orders.
Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, and Darrell McGee, VFW Post 5263 commander, then placed a wreath in honor of fallen comrades remembering the ultimate sacrifice millions of men and women gave to keep this country free.
Joe-Lynn, who also serves as the VFW post's chaplain, then blessed the wreath. He said, "As comrade after comrade departs, we march on with our ranks grown thinner, help us to be faithfully unto thee and to one another." He asked that God would look in mercy on the widows and children of departed comrades, and to console and comfort those who are bereaved.
Rothena McGee then placed the first of three flowers on the wreath. Her's, a red flower, was a tribute of devotion, remembrance and in memory of the heroic dead who fell in defense of the United States.
Bob Kuchar then placed a white flower that symbolized purity calling on future generations to emulate the unselfish courage of all Americans who fought and died for freedom.
Larry King then inserted onto the wreath a blue flower, the symbol of eternity and life everlasting.
All were invited to stand and recognize a moment of silence. An Army bandsman then played taps followed by B/2-2nd FA Soldiers firing their artillery pieces in a 21-gun salute. The 77th Army Band then played the "Star Spangled Banner" as the flag detail hoisted the flag up to full staff.
McDonald then stepped to the podium and thanked all in attendance as well as those Soldiers and Marines arrayed upon the lawn behind him, each for the part they played in the day's ceremonies.
He said it is always a privilege to welcome veterans and community members onto Fort Sill and thanked them for their attendance.
"Thanks for sharing in an event like this; there are a lot of things you could be doing this weekend, but you are here honoring those who have gone before us," he said. "It says volumes about the character of the individuals who have come out today to honor their country."
McDonald said he began his day on the porch of Sherman House looking at the infantry and cavalry barracks and the Old Post headquarters. Seeing into the lives of those early servicemen, he talked of their sacrifices they made leaving the East Coast to come out to Oklahoma and establish security for pioneers and settlers so they could live a good and safe life.
"They had to sacrifice a lot; many of them gave their lives along with some of their family members, but they did it because that is what the country asked of them," he said. "Today, we're fortunate to be members of an organization that stretches 237 years; when we view our armed service in context of that, it becomes clear that today's all-volunteer force is a great calling and a great privilege."
McDonald said the armed forces are part of a long line of heroes that stretches across the full history of this country.
"Our country's stature, the land of the free, has come at a great price however to our young Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who we do have the opportunity to honor today. Even though the United States has only celebrated Memorial Day since the end of the Civil War, we have always understood that our war heroes hold a special place in our country's history. Likewise, we have always treated them with reverence," he said.
Beginning his day as many Soldiers do, with physical training, McDonald's morning run ended near the post cemetery and a scene to inspire patriotism and thankfulness.
"Literally thousands of small American flags were blowing in the same direction in a cool Oklahoma breeze. That means people remembered and put those flags out there, just like you're remembering by being here today," he said.
McDonald spoke of a battle during the Civil War where Union and Confederate forces clashed at Davis Bridge in Tennessee. He said a monument remains of the a small conflict and commemorates that battle.
"It says, 'Poor is the nation that has no heroes, and shameful is the nation that has them and forgets,'" he said.
"That quotation is as true now as it was when it was etched in 1896. Our obligation remains the same to never forget the price our nation's heroes paid so that we may enjoy the freedoms they will never enjoy again," McDonald said. "They sacrificed everything for us, and we honor them today and always."
McGee then took the podium and said no other nation on earth gave such a sacrifice as the United States.
"Nowhere in history has there been a country that has given so much to ensure freedom for others," he said.
He reminded all in attendance of the cemeteries around the world, places such as Normandy, France; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and Manila, the Philippines as testament to the price to achieve and maintain freedom around the globe. He then addressed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how again, the United States paid a price greater than other nations in numbers of service members who died.
"The lives of our fallen warriors were not lost in vain for each life lost contributed to the America we know today: a free and strong nation, and the greatest nation on earth," he said.
Army bandsmen ended the ceremony playing the "Armed Services Medley" with many in attendance singing along as the band concluded with the Army song.