FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 31, 2012) -- Fog covered the ground and a single wreath stood in the field as a crowd of people, both military and civilian, gathered to remember fallen heroes during a Memorial Day ceremony May 24 at Veterans Park.

"Initially established after the Civil War to honor the dead and the commitment of those who served on both sides in that conflict, Memorial Day has since become the day on which we annually remember the sacrifice of all who have perished in our nation's wars," the narrator explained at the start of the ceremony. "All across America, our grateful nation comes together to honor those men and women for their selfless service."

During the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, and Aviation Branch Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Thomson Jr. placed a wreath at the monuments at Veterans Park in a symbolic gesture of honor.

"The date of Decoration Day, as this was originally called, was chosen because it wasn't the anniversary of a particular battle," Crutchfield explained. "It wasn't a day to commemorate war. It was a day to celebrate, to decorate, to commemorate the lives and sacrifices of those that came before us."

He asked attendees to remember those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also to celebrate life and celebrate the optimism that decorates the American spirit.

"Our founding fathers established our nation on hope," he said. "The hope that people, ordinary citizens like you and me, would guide and shape our nation in prosperity. Our founding fathers knew there would be work and there would be sacrifice if the American experiment was to work. I think you'd agree they were right."

Many veterans groups and military Family groups were represented at the ceremony, and the crowd included former World War II prisoner of war, retired Lt. Col. Tom Stovall.

"I just appreciate the fact they show their appreciation for those who served," Stovall said. "So many of them gave their lives. I'm lucky to be alive."

Stovall, who turned 94 last month, is the former commander of the Wiregrass Ex-Prisoner of War group. He said the group once had more than 200 members, but now, only four are left.

"We're just happy to be here after all these years," he said.

Fred Griffin and Harry Grainger, both Vietnam veterans and members of the Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars, also attended the ceremony.

Griffin said the ceremony was significant because Veterans Day is for the living, but Memorial Day is for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"It means were are able to get up from here and go enjoy the freedoms that the deceased paid for with their life," Grainger added. "It gives the Families a reason, a purpose, for having lost their loved ones."

Crutchfield asked those in attendance to continue to remember those Families who had lost a loved one as they were continuing to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

"Every single man and woman who is serving in our Army today all volunteered to serve at a time of war," Crutchfield said. "They grew up in the shadow of Sept. 11, 2001 -- a defining moment for most of them. Many endured multiple deployments with honor, distinction, pride and service."

He went on to say that many of those Soldiers returned home to yellow ribbons, hugs and handshakes, but many also returned home in a casket draped with an American flag.

"They gave their service," he said. "They gave their optimism. They gave their lives. They gave everything to support and defend this nation. A nation built on life, liberty and hope. To them, we owe our service. We owe our optimism. We owe our lives to them.

"This is why we need to celebrate and decorate for Memorial Day," he said.