Every veteran conducting the program was wearing their old military uniforms.
The Gilmer High School Jr. ROTC raised the flag, while trumpeteer Lynn Alexander played To the Color and the National Anthem.
The event this year was sponsored by the Gilmer post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Rev. Huey Jones, USN (retired), gave the invocation and welcome.
The traditional placing of the wreath at the monument to Upshur County’s war dead was by Anna Miller, a 92-year-old World War II veteran who served as an Army nurse.
She was assisted by Rev. Jones and VFW Commander Gary Adams.
Rev. Jones then sang America the Beautiful.
As his resonant voice rang out, first a few in the audience joined in, and then the whole crowd began sanging.
Lt. Col. Larry Tefteller, U.S. Army Airborne (retired), was the keynote speaker.
“My fellow Americans,” he said, “America’s Memorial Day is a day of ceremonies and speeches and picnics. Throughout America today, we honor the dead of our wars. We remember they gave their lives so others might live.”
He described the meaning of Memorial Day.
“. . . From these honored dead we take increased devotion, that we may highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,” he said, quoting Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
“Memorial Day is a sacred day to all war vetrans. None need to be reminded of the reason Memorial Day must be commemorated,” he said. “But what about the general public, and more importantly, future generations? Do most non-veterans really recognize the importance of May 30?
“Judging from what Memorial Day has become—simply another day off from work—the answer is a resounding NO! So perhaps a reminder is due then. And it is the duty of each and every veteran to relay the message.
“Why remember? Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. America’s collective consciousness demands that all citizens be aware of and recall on special occasions the deaths fo their fellow countrymen during wartime.”
Tefteller said that far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy.
“Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew,” the retired colonel said. “That is why they are collectively remembered on one special day. This should be regarded as a civic obligation, for this is a national debt that can only be truly repaid by individual Americans. By honoring the nation’s ward dead, we preserved their memory and this their service and sacrifice.
“Who are we remembering?” Tefteller asked. “The nation mourns the loss of all Americans who died defending their country throughout the world since 1775. These are men and women who have remained mostly anonymous except to the families who loved them.
“They came from all walks of life and regions of the country,” he said. “But they all had one thing in common—love of and loyalty to country. This cemented ties between them in times of trials, allowing a diverse lot of Americans to achieve monumental ends.
“Who were they? They were relatives, friends and neighbors molded together to performa service for an entire society—from junior high dropouts to PhDs—they were the nation’s defenders.
“What are we remembering?” he asked. “We remember the loss of defenders, a sense of loss that takes group form. In essence, America is commemorating those who made the greatest sacrifice possible—giving one’s own life selflessly.
“This remembrance is all inclusive, spanning 239 years and some 62 military actions that claimed 1.2 million lives (and counting).
“Most Americans are familion with the major wars—Revolutionary War, Ward of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, WW I, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan—but few think of those killed in ‘minor’ frays,” Tefteller said.
“Examples of lesser-known actions are the Panama and Grenada invasions, the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the USS Cole in 2000,” he said. “But no American death is too insignificant to remember when that life was lost at the behest of society.
“GIs do not choose where they serve for what foreign policy they must enforce. The death of a sailor in the Persian Gulf is every bit as important as one killed in the Pacific during World War II. Such distinctions are irrelevant,” he said.
“How do we remember?” he asked. “Means of paying tribute vary. Pausing for a few moments of personal silence is an option for everyone. Attending commemorative ceremonies is the most visible way of demonstrating remembrance, placing flags at grave sites, marching in parades, sponsoring patriotic programs and dedicating memorials are a few examples.
“Whether done individually or collectively, it is the though that counts. Personal as well as public acts of remembrance are the ideal. Public displays of patriotism are essential in the notion of remembering ward dead is to be instilled in the young,” he said.
“As America’s war vets fast disappear from society’s notice, there are fewer and fewer standard bearers left to carry the torch of remembrance,” the retired colonel said. “Such traditions will live on only if there is a vibrant movement to which that torch can be passed.
“When do we remember?” he asked. “Until the National Holiday Act of 1971, Memorial Day was celebrated each May 30. That custom became a tradition with the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans organization that made honoring Civil War dead a civic duty for all citizens.
“Until 1882, the practice of placing flowers at grave sites was known as Decoration Day. And then later on, all states legalized May 3c0 as Memorial Day. Changing the date merely to create 3-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.
“Perhaps the most profound tributed of all was made on the first national memorial observanc in May, 1868, by then Gen. James A. Garfield when he said, ‘they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolve all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and virtue.’
He gave a personal anecdote about attending a military funeral in Wyoming, in which the cemetery of a young soldier killed in Afghanistan was 100 miles from the location of the funeral service. He said he didn’t know there were that many American flags in Wyoming. The entire route was lined with flags of all sizes.
“As we go about the remainder of our day, let us remember we have young men and women on the line in Afghanistan this very moment, willing to make the supreme sacrifice for us.
“These 1.2 million men and women gave up their tomorrows so we could have ours and are speaking English instead of German or Japanese or some other language,” he concluded. “Let’s make the best of them. Thank you all for being here.”
The service concluded with a closing prayer by Miles, and Taps and the lowering of the flag to half staff.