Iraqi War veteran Todd Davis said he felt “a mixture of sorrow and pride,” as he sat in Hinesville’s Memorial Day ceremony and listened to the story of another Iraqi War vet who did not make it back home.
Third Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, Jr. spoke Monday morning at the American Legion Post 168 and gave a somber account of Cpl. Dean Richardson, a soldier he lost while an Armor battalion commander on a 20-month deployment.
Richardson died April 2005 while returning fire during an enemy attack. The attack happened on a canal road and Richardson tried to take cover on a bank. He did not know it was covered in slippery algae.
“Dean slowly started to slide down the deep, fast-moving murky canal,” the general said. “Even as he entered the water, he continued firing and was firing as he headed down stream.”
His suppressive fire killed one insurgent, wounded another, and most importantly, gave his teammates time to take cover during the attack. His squad tried to save him, but the 23-year-old drowned, leaving his 20-year-old wife and high school sweetheart.
“To the very end, he was a warrior and a brother to his teammates,” Quintas said of the Bronze Star recipient.
Davis’ mixed emotions partly came from his own 2003 Iraq deployment.
“I was deployed with people like that and it’s just awesome to hear that, but it’s also heart-breaking at the same,” Davis said.
It was Davis’ first time attending the annual outdoor ceremony that attracted a crowd of at least 200, seated and standing.
Legion post chaplain Adna Chaffee gave a history of Memorial Day, an observance that started in 1868 with the purpose being “to pay tribute to individuals who had made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States and to their families.”
“May we never fail to remember the awesome cost of the freedom in which we enjoy,” Chaffee said in a prayer after calling out names of deceased servicemembers.
Proper remembrance is “critical to the future of America,” according to Chaffee.
“Too few of our citizens have an appreciation for the real meaning of Memorial Day,” Chaffee said. “They lack the context to give it heartfelt significance.”
Walter Posey, 12, and his little two-year-old sister, Parker, were two of the several children in attendance.
“My favorite part was when they came out with the flags,” Walter said of the 3rdID Color Guard that posted and retired the colors.
Grandmother and retired Staff Sgt. Colleen Thompson explained both the children’s parents have military service.
“We know the concept of Memorial Day and the difference between that and Veterans Day. We’re a military family,” she said.
Boy Scout troop 475 were also part of the listening crowd.
Cubmaster Holli Gorsuch and her husband, retired Staff Sgt. Thomas Gorsuch, explained why they go every year.
“It reminds us of the soldiers and the friends that we have lost,” Holli said.
Thomas added, “I don’t think a lot of people know what it actual means … I think eventually it will (change), but it’s going to take time.”
They planned on taking the boys to Warrior’s Walk on Fort Stewart after the ceremony.
In his talk, the general urged everyone to visit the living memorial, saying Tree #74 honors Cpl. Richardson and each of the 468 white crape myrtle trees had an “amazing story,” behind them.
“Let there be no mistake, the world remains a very dangerous and hostile place. To ensure our way of life, our sons and our daughters must be willing to face our nation’s enemies,” Quintas said. “Today, our all-volunteer force stands on the achievements and sacrifices of all those that have gone before.”