Tears of pride, sadness, mark service
By Sam Atkins
Published in News on June 1, 2004 1:59 PM
Scenes of U.S. military personnel defending their country flashed upon the screen while patriotic music played in the background.
Tears of pride and sadness rolled down the faces of some of those watching the video. Others cheered when pictures representing their branch of the military were shown.
Michael Atkins, right, sings the National Anthem at a Memorial Day ceremony held at Wayne Community College. Mike Burris, left, president of the Wayne County Veterans Coalition, joins others in saluting the flag as it is presented by the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Honor Guard.
The video concluded the annual Memorial Day service held Monday in the auditorium of Wayne Community College. It was sponsored by the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition.
Veterans and their family members joined other military personnel, city and county officials and others to honor those who lost their lives fighting for their country and those who continue to fight.
"On this most solemn holiday, we must stop and consider the great sacrifices that others have made so that we have the freedom and prosperity we enjoy today," said Tech Sgt. Kim Hernandez of the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. She was the keynote speaker during the ceremony.
She has been at Seymour Johnson for over 15 years, first as an active-duty member, then a reservist and now as a full-time air reserve technician. She started by giving a little history of Memorial Day.
It was declared originally in 1868 and known as Decoration Day, which was at the end of the Civil War. Family members of the many soldiers slain in battle would visit the graves of their fallen relatives or friends and decorate their graves, she said. The name was changed to Memorial Day in 1882, and it was declared a national holiday in 1971.
She said that about 1,326,300 patriots have died fighting for American freedom, from the Revolutionary War until the present war in Iraq. When taking that number and multiplying it by approximately two grieving family members and their friends, it is an enormous amount of people affected by the people lost in the wars, said Ms. Hernandez.
She encouraged everyone to remember the cause for which Americans have fought in wars and the freedom and peace brought with their life's blood. She said they should pass along the accounts of honor and courage to a new generation.
"From this day forth I will carry their memory and spirit with me as a living memorial to their sacrifice and dedication to God, country, duty and honor. They shall not pass gently into the night as long as I have breath in my body to shout to the world," she said.
Mike Burris, coalition president, thanked the 150 volunteers who helped place flags at the four cemeteries on Saturday. Ms. Hernandez said they placed the flags on as many veteran grave markers as they could find. They had 2,600 flags and ran out. The flags were to be picked up today.
The service began with a posting of the colors by the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Honor Guard. Michael Atkins sang the national anthem and a a melody of service songs from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Veterans of each branch stood up during their song.
Capt. Nicole Das, whose husband, Capt. Eric "Boot" Das, was killed while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, placed the wreath in front of the U.S. flag and the North Carolina flag, which represented the college's armed services memorial.
Thomas Cooper played "Taps," and Ralph Painter, pastor of First Assembly of God Church, gave the invocation and benediction.
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