It’s easy to forget the true meaning of Memorial Day and just treat it as the holiday that marks the unofficial beginning of summer.
Maybe that just shows how successful those who sacrificed for the nation have been, said Col. Kevin F. Gregory, the garrison commander on Fort Stewart.
“It is perhaps an indication of the successes achieved by those who sacrificed everything that many Americans today do not fully understand the meaning of Memorial Day,” said Gregory, the keynote speaker during a ceremony Monday morning at Fred L. Ginter American Legion Post 168 in Hinesville. “The theme of sacrifice is overcome by the super-abundance of life’s blessings here in the United States, even in this time of war. If some of our community say Memorial Day is a day the swimming pool is open, we don’t mind them. But we all may thank the triumph of a great few for easing the prospect of menace and securing the bounties of liberty.”
An overflow crowd of veterans, their family members and elected officials attended the ceremony in the pavilion behind the American Legion building.
Donald Spencer, the third junior vice commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars Georgia District 7 and the incoming chaplain for American Legion Post 168, led 30 seconds of silence in remembrance of those who died while serving their country.
Before he did, he told of two military-service members who were killed in action: Pvt. Dale M. Hansen, a 5-foot-9, 141-pound Marine who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat on Okinawa during World War II; and Army Spc. Brittany Gordon, who was killed during a suicide-bomb attack in Afghanistan in 2012.
According to Hansen’s Medal of Honor citation, signed by President Harry S. Truman, the 22-year-old Marine put himself in an exposed position May 7, 1945, and used a rocket launcher to destroy an enemy pillbox. The launcher was destroyed by enemy fire, so he seized a rifle, leaped across a ridge and killed four Japanese troops before the rifle jammed. Then, he beat two more Japanese with the butt of the rifle. He quickly returned with another a weapon and a supply of grenades and killed eight more enemy troops and destroyed an enemy mortar position.
Just four days later, Hansen was killed by a Japanese sniper, according to the medal citation.
“Pvt. Hansen, like so many other defenders of freedom, is forever young,” Spencer said.
According to news reports from October 2012, Gordon, 24, was killed when a suicide bomber wearing an improvised explosive device detonated it while Gordon was part of a unit delivering furniture to an intelligence office in a remote part of Kandahar province in Afghanistan.
“Like Pvt. Hansen, Spc. Brittany Gordon is forever young,” Spencer said. “The numbers of our fallen heroes are not just statistics. They are real people with real families who live in real communities. We can best honor their sacrifice by remembering their families, who have lost so much.”
When Spencer concluded his remarks, the 3rd Infantry Division Jazz Band played taps as audience members stood with heads bowed, hands clasped in front of them, in solemn remembrance.
Earlier in the ceremony, Rick Hill, the current but outgoing chaplain of American Legion Post 168, gave the invocation. He also served as emcee throughout the hourlong observance.
Allen Hill gave a rousing rendition of the national anthem, which prompted the crowd to applaud afterward.
Rick Hill concluded the ceremony with the benediction, during which he prayed for not only those who were killed in action or veterans who died years after their military service and their families, but also for current personnel serving overseas.
“Even today, as we honor them, there are soldiers around the world — airmen, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines — all are serving, even today, watching over our country in our missions around the world,” he said. “And, Father, we just ask that you would touch them, that you would give them a measure of peace and comfort, knowing that they have a great nation that is giving thanks for their service today, along with those who have passed and gone before.”