By Elaine WilsonMay 29, 2008
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- When Marine Sgt. Aaron N. Cepeda Sr. lost his life in combat in Iraq on May 7, 2005, his Family also lost a son, husband and father.
In honor of the sacrifice they were not asked, but had to make, Cepeda's children were presented a Gold Medal of Remembrance May 26 during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
The Cepedas were among five Families to be honored with the medal, which is presented to children of fallen servicemembers from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. The White House Commission on Remembrance is working to ensure every child in the country who has lost a parent in service to the country receives the medal, according to the commission's Web site.
"It's hard for the children to go up there, but it lets them know that their dad is remembered," said Aaron Sr.'s mother, Diana Cepeda. "As a mother, it lets me know that my son gave a lot for this country, but he won't be forgotten."
Wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with their father's face, Cepeda's children, 8-year-old Aaron Jr. and 4-year-old Journee, accepted the medals from U.S. Senator John Cornyn.
"You should be proud that beneath the shadow of evil and in the face of danger, your parents did not run, but they stood up for what they believed in," Cornyn said, directing his remarks to all of the Families of fallen servicemembers in attendance. "While I know of no words, no matter how heartfelt, that could ever heal the hurt, I hope these Families will find comfort in the courage and the honor of their loved one's service."
The medal presentation was part of a two-hour Memorial Day ceremony to honor the sacrifices of servicemembers past and present. Nearly a thousand people from the military and local communities braved sweltering heat to attend the ceremony in the shadow of seemingly endless rows of tombstones, each with a small American flag set in front.
Although too young to recognize it, the young medal recipients shared a common bond of sacrifice with the older men and women standing proudly at attention in uniforms that dated back to World War II.
Many of them had also lost loved ones and were at the ceremony to honor their memory and pay tribute to those still serving.
"I lost one of my brothers in Korea; he's buried here," said Marcos Cordova, representing American Legion 579.
"As long as I'm alive, I'll pay respect for my buddies out there," said Richard Perez, also from the American Legion.
While many veteran and patriotic organizations paid tribute by taking part in a wreath-presentation ceremony, Miguel Sanchez, from the Native American community, honored servicemembers in his own way. He moved quietly through the crowd, waving smoke from burning sage onto wreaths to cleanse them for the ceremony.
Following a presentation of service songs and banners, the senator spoke of the memory and sacrifice of all servicemembers, including his father, who served in World War II.
"It's appropriate to be at Fort Sam Houston this Memorial Day because my father is buried here," he said. "I learned from my father's sacrifice, the depth of sacrifice that all of our military servicemembers and their Families make."
As Cornyn recalled the past, he also reminded the audience to look to the future.
"I've had the opportunity to visit Iraq and look into the faces of the next 'Greatest Generation,'" he said. "In their eyes I see your legacy, the courage, the strength and honor which has been handed down to every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine by the generation that preceded them.
"The truth is while the uniforms have changed, while the battlefields have changed over time, and even the nature of the threat has changed, the strength and courage of America's military has not."
Cornyn's speech was followed by a presentation of wreaths and banners by military, veteran and civic organizations, a musical presentation by the Alamo Metro Chorus, and a performance by the U.S. Army Medical Command Band.