Liberty County residents and visitors had a couple different options for observing Memorial Day — some drier than others.
While rain peppered areas of the county at various times Monday, the holiday was not a total wash thanks to commemoration events planned by the American Legion Post 168 and Fort Morris State Historic Site.
American Legion observance
The precipitation held off as a standing-room-only crowd gathered at 11 a.m. under and around a pavilion behind the American Legion on Oglethorpe Highway in Hinesville for an outdoor ceremony that included jazz, inspirational words and stories from special guests, recognition of veterans in attendance and refreshments.
After the 3rd ID Color Guard posted the colors, attendees recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem. Ceremony guest speaker Brig. Gen. James Blackburn, deputy commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division, drew laughter from the crowd by interrupting Sgt. Benjamin Van Buren, who had been introducing Blackburn by reading a lengthy summary of his numerous achievements, honors and assignments.
“That’s good enough,” Blackburn assured Van Buren. “All that does is prove I’m old.”
He launched into a brief Memorial Day history and reminded attendees of the annual observance’s meaning.
“In the 146 years since that first dedication day was celebrated, we, as a society, often have taken for granted the freedoms that we enjoy each and every day. So I challenge each of us not to forget the history, the meaning and the sacrifice, the purpose of Memorial Day. It is coming home to us all,” Blackburn said.
The general stressed the importance of keeping alive the memories of military members who gave their lives in defense of the nation as well as the families who mourn the losses of their heroes.
“Most recent, in the last decade, our 468 Dog Face soldiers who believed in our cause, who went to war and made that ultimate sacrifice so that the citizens of this great nation would not have to live each day under tyranny or threat of terrorism,” he said. “While the purpose of Memorial Day is to remember and honor our soldiers who died in service to our country, we need to also remember and honor the family members of the soldiers who made this sacrifice — our Gold Star families.”
Blackburn also explained the significance of the Army keeping flags at half-staff for part of the day.
“This half-staff position serves as a reminder to honor the over 1.3 million Americans who have given their lives in defense of our nation. This, in the Army, is our symbolic tradition to commemorate Memorial Day. At noon, the flags will be raised to full staff to show our steadfastness to continue the fight of the fallen, to not let their sacrifice be in vain, to continue the constant pursuit of liberty and justice for all,” he said.
Reiterating Blackburn’s request to the crowd to support deceased military members’ loved ones, Staff Sgt. Bryan Quigley, of the 93rd Military Police Detachment, told stories of military members’ dependents who live upstanding lives and make choices their fallen soldiers would be proud of. He encouraged attendees to do the same.
“As Legionnaires, we are pledged through the preamble of our organization’s constitution to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the great wars. This solemn promise is on the back of each region membership card,” he said. “Yet, we do not remember our fallen brothers and sisters in arms because of an edict or obligatory reason. We do so because we want to. America must remember that freedom isn’t free. In fact, it’s only possible because our fallen heroes have paid the highest price.”
Pvt. 2 Kevin O’Brien and his wife, Kaylie O’Brien, tended to their 18-month-old daughter, Sophia, near the back of the crowd. The family, who moved two months ago from Pennsylvania to Fort Stewart, their first duty station, said celebrating Memorial Day is just a given when you have a family history of military service.
“My father served. My husband serves now. I’ve just done it my whole life,” Kaylie O’Brien said.
Lou Carreras, Army Reserve ambassador for Georgia, was glad to see such a large crowd at the post. He, like others who attended and spoke at the ceremony, expressed concern that Americans have forgotten what Memorial Day truly means.
“I’ve always remembered those who fought for our liberties. In Vietnam, I remember looking at pictures of World War II veterans, and that kept me going. The emphasis has turned to holiday partying instead of remembering, and I wish we’d go back to our position like after WWII, because we can’t forget those who’ve given the most. You can’t give more than your life,” Carreras said.
Fort Morris observance
Intermittent afternoon showers and thunder in Sunbury dampened but didn’t ruin Fort Morris’ Memorial Day commemoration, which featured Revolutionary War musket- and cannon-firing demonstrations, walking tours, Colonial-era games and food.
Debbi Edgar, wife of park manager Arthur Edgar, along with her friend and fellow volunteer, Cherie Tracy, greeted visitors and offered refreshments from a table containing food reminiscent of the 18th century, such as herb-roasted chicken, cheese, bread, grapes and cobbler.
Tracy, who has been donating her time to Fort Morris for 13 years, said she enjoys lending a hand at the site and tries to come out for all the fort’s festivities.
“It’s important to celebrate Memorial Day because we want to remember all our fallen soldiers,” she said.
One young visitor, Baker McKay, played Colonial-era games with Tracy beneath a huge oak tree, not minding the water droplets that occasionally trickled through the leafy canopy above. McKay said his parents brought him, his two brothers and his sister from Savannah to Fort Morris to mark Memorial Day, which he thinks is a special holiday.
“We wouldn’t be free if we didn’t have soldiers helping fight off other countries. I wouldn’t want to join the Army, but there are people who do and they defend the country, so that’s good for them, and we celebrate them,” he said.
Debbi Edgar said that in addition to honoring the fallen, she also sees Memorial Day as an opportunity to think of those who volunteered for battle and returned to the nation they defended.
“On Memorial Day, I know most people remember all the men who died. I like to remember all the men who served and fought for our freedom and have come back alive to their families and the love that waited for them,” she said.
Edgar said Monday’s turnout was basically average, even with the rain. However, the wet weather did carry with it the potential to delay a much-anticipated part of the commemoration — cannon firings and musket demonstrations.
At 1:30 p.m., artillery-crew volunteer Gilbert Tracy kept a close eye on the dark gray sky, hoping lightning and heavier rains wouldn’t materialize.
“The problem it causes is, the rain will make the (gun) powder wet, the powder won’t burn if it’s wet, and if it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t explode,” he said. “That, and lightning is a hazard in case it touches off the powder.”
The rain had an upside, though.
“It’s keeping us cool,” Cherie Tracy said. “That’s for sure.”