Clarke County residents gathered together on a sunny Sunday afternoon for the annual community observance of Memorial Day. The celebration is in its sixth year and was developed by a committee of local citizens, representatives of VFW Post 9760, and representatives of American Legion Post 41. Warm weather and lush green grass set the perfect backdrop for the service as officials from the town and county government joined veterans and guest speakers in the gazebo at Rose Hill Park to remember the fallen and those who have served and continue to serve our country.
The Clarke County High School Band and Chorus provided musical tributes with a prelude, the national anthem, the narrated musical piece, “The Message on the Rock”, and an original composition by Dr. Ryan Keebaugh titled, “For Lost Heroes.” County resident John Hudson added to the musical performances with his solo performance of, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
As the final notes trailed off into the air, LTC John F. Jackson Jr. USA (Ret) welcomed everyone to the ceremony. The Clarke County native spoke to the meaning of the holiday. “Memorial Day unfortunately is for many, not recognized for what it should be. Far too many people consider it the weekend when the pools open. Your being here today obviously says you understand that Memorial Day is about much more than pools opening or the beginning of summer.”
Referencing the last line from the bands performance of, “The Message on the Rock,” LTC Jackson continued saying, “You heard it once, I’ll say it again, because its definitely apropos, ‘All gave some, some gave all.’ The primary reason for today’s ceremony is to honor those who gave all but we would be remiss if we did not recognize those who also gave some. Those who are still giving and those who have made a commitment, whether formalized yet or not, to serve serve in the nation’s cause.”
The main speaker for the event this year was Vice Admiral Norbert R. Ryan, Jr., USN (Retired). He is a highly decorated veteran and currently serves as President of the Military Officers Association of America. Vice Admiral Ryan spoke of the terrible losses our country has suffered in the past and the responsibility we all have to honor those who gave their all. He also pointed out the need to honor those who have served, in particular those who have been injured. Vice Admiral Ryan welcomed all veteran’s especially those from Martinsburg, WV Veterans Affairs Hospital and took a moment to honor them by having all veterans stand and be recognized. “We know that we have no finer role models in this country than the 24 million veterans who have acted by answering the call of their nation and demonstrated honor, courage, and commitment for something greater than themselves.”
Turning his attention to those who are serving today, Vice Admiral Ryan recounted his experiences with two young military personnel that demonstrate the kind of service and dedication that exists in today’s military. On September 11th 2001, Ryan was serving in the Pentagon when it was attacked. He told the story of a young lieutenant serving in his office named Kevin Schaeffer. He was severely burned in the attack and fought against terrible odds to survive. In spite of his severe injuries Lieutenant Schaeffer wanted to stay in the arena, to make a difference. The lieutenant now serves in the intelligence community to help prevent attacks like the one that killed 9 of his co-workers from ever happening again.
Another example was a young Marine Corporal who was severely injured in an explosion in Iraq. When Vice Admiral Ryan visited this young man in the hospital the soldier was not concerned about his own welfare, but instead focused on his friends and comrades who were still serving saying, “I’ve got one good arm and I’ve got one good eye, I want you to fight for my buddies that are still out there on the battlefield.”
“These two individuals remind us that we do have another ‘Greatest Generation’ in uniform today. I’ve been to Iraq four years in a row and the first year I was there, before we went out on patrol with an Army Striker Group, General Petraus said, ‘Norb, you’re going to see another ‘Greatest Generation’ just like our WWII ‘Greatest Generation.’ They are combat tested.’ We went out in 125 degree heat for 15 hours. The soldiers were wearing 45 pounds of body armor, and they performed magnificently and that’s why the country of Iraq now has the chance to be free.”
Vice Admiral Ryan closed by advocating for those who still serve. “Our biggest challenge is the amount of time military men and women must be away from home. Our Armed Forces are stretched to the limit. We have got to get them more time at home.” He added, “Make sure that we remind our elected and appointed officials that we don’t want them to take their eye off of this ‘Greatest Generation’ that is serving today. That we need to continue to give them our support.”
“I hope if anything what this day reminds us all as Americans is that our greatest asset in our country is not our material wealth, its not the beautiful and rich farmland that we have here and around the country, and it’s not our fantastic leading edge technology. This nation’s treasure is its sons and daughters as witnessed here and in our currently serving all volunteer force. Our sons and daughters are our greatest treasure and I submit to you that as long as we have folks here and in our service and we continue to produce sons and daughters like that we will remain the greatest country on Earth.”
The ceremony closed with an inspired performance of an original composition by Dr. Ryan Keebaugh titled, “For Lost Heroes,” that combined the talents of the band and the chorus. The Clarke County Honor Guard conducted a military salute and the events of the day came to a close. It was an excellent show of support and respect for the men and women who serve and in particular for those who have paid the ultimate price.
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