Freedom is not Free – Remember the fallen – Memorial Day 2018

First on the minds of all those attending Memorial Day – Monday, May 28 – ceremonies at the Maple Valley/Hobart, Black Diamond, and Tahoma National Cemeteries was showing honor to all those men and women of the military services who gave their lives – with some paying the ultimate price – in service to their country.

Maple Valley/Hobart Cemetery began the 2018 Memorial Day serviceshonoring their 162 Veterans with a very simple ceremony given by Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Maple Valley/Black Diamond Post 5052. Approximately 24 casket flags proudly lined the entrance way of the cemetery, and beyond while smaller flags and crosses placed by Boy Scout Troop 711 decorated the gravesites of the Veterans.

During his time of reflection regarding the Veteran’s, Hobart Church Pastor Rob Morris quoted scripture from John 15:13 (NLT) – There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. At the conclusion of the simple ceremony attended by a good number of community members and friends, Post 5052 members made their way to the Black Diamond Cemetery where they conducted a second simple ceremony as Black Diamond community members gathered to show their honor for their Veterans.

Rounding out the day’s ceremonies was a service held at Tahoma National Cemetery (TNC) where a great number of family members and friends were gathered to pay respects to loved ones laid to rest. A proud Master of Ceremonies, Joe LaVoie, Chair of the TNC Support Group, watched as his grand-daughter Ella LaVoie, a Girl Scout, led everyone in the National Anthem and grandson Brogan LaVoie, representing Scout Troops, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Others participating in the ceremonies included Gateway Concert Band, The Issaquah Singers, Washington Army National Guard, Al Zarb, and VFW Post 1949.

Sounding the Call to Colors was Fred Byzinker, who joined Bernie Moskowitz and Jack Prindle at the end of the program in a beautiful haunting three-way sounding of echo Taps. US Senator Maria Cantwell made an appearance to deliver a short Memorial Day message along with TNC Director Thomas Yokes, TNC Assistant Director Jennifer Dehorty, and Gold Star Mother Monica McNeal, who gave a stirring Keynote message.

Prior to messages delivered by the day’s speakers, Chaplin Dan Shaw, Lt. Commander USN Reserve, was giving the Invocation when a flyover performed by Cascade WarBirds and led by Roger Collins made its first pass over. Always a thrill to behold for the crowd, the WarBirds made their second pass-over with the team preforming a missing man formation.

Welcoming everyone to the place “Where Heroes Rest,” Dehorty noted that this Memorial Day 2018 marked the 20thMemorial Day Program held at Tahoma National Cemetery. “Today and every day, it is our privilege to honor and recognize our fallen,” said Dehorty, “but especially on this day of remembrance.”

Going on to call out 65 first names of those Killed In Action (KIA) that have been laid to rest at TNC, Dehorty encouraged the crowd to “never forget their names; let us never stop telling their stories….Memorial Day allows us to remember our fallen heroes, our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who have served our nation. Their selfless service completed missions, won world wars, and is the reason our nation continues to thrive in freedom.”

Keynote Speaker and Gold Star Mother Monica McNeal began by letting everyone know that less than 1% of our population are willing to fulfill a mission that is a higher calling. She spoke of the Redwood trees in California that tower some 300 feet into the air, some of which are approximately 2,500 years old and how their very shallow root system intertwines with other redwoods interlocking with each other so that when storms come, and winds blow, the redwoods still stand. “As a Nation, we are inter-twined to be strong together,” said McNeal, and then she began to tell of her own experience when her son, LCpl Eric Levi Ward, 19, was Killed In Action in Afghanistan in February 21, 2010.

McNeal spoke of her son, committed to be a lifetime Marine, growing up knowing that this country was at war. On his 17thbirthday, he asked his parents to sign the paper allowing him to enlist early into the Marines. His senior year he decided to drop football as well as baseball to avoid any injuries, so he could prepare for Boot Camp. He was 4thgeneration Marines and wanted to go to Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC.

Following Boot Camp, Ward was stationed at Camp LeJeune, NC as part of 2ndMarine/2ndBattalion Marines. Three days before he was to leave for Operation Enduring Freedom on October 28, 2009, McNeal was with her son making sure “…he was ready mentally and physically serve our nation in Afghanistan.” Thankfully she was able to keep in touch with him overseas through emails, Facebook and phone calls.

In February 2010, McNeal’s world came crashing down – just a year and 4 months into Ward’s short career – when she was called out of a meeting to meet with two Marines. It was then that she learned her son had been killed. Today, her son, who was born in Virginia, is resting in Arlington National Cemetery, VA.

“The shallow roots of his short life were intertwined from VA to MN, MN to CA, CA to WA, WA to NC and Afghanistan back to VA,” said McNeal. “The shallow roots of 19 years…What Eric left behind are strong roots have been intertwined and has helped others weather the storm.” Upon finishing her comments, McNeal received a heartfelt standing ovation from the crowd.

Giving a Cemetery Update, Yokes began by sharing Under Secretary of Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves’s Vision for the National Cemetery Administration – To ensure that No Veteran Ever Dies. Yokes went on to explain that there were two deaths – one being the physical one that no one can ever avoid, and the second one comes when one’s name and story are spoken for the last time.

For his part, Reeves wants to “…ensure that American’s Veterans never suffer that second death,” said Yokes. “By sharing the stories of our Veterans who have so honorably served our country in both war and peace…Our ceremony today is about providing honors to men and women who devoted their lives to principles far greater than self.”

Speaking about this country’s long heritage of men and women-in-arms giving their selfless service and sacrifice beginning with the American Revolution, Yokes stated, “…they left to us, their countrymen, and, in many cases for the people of other Nations, the blessings of freedom. Their actions defined our destiny and wrote the chapters of our country’s history – in blood, sweat, and tears. They did not fail us, and we must not fail them.”

Pointing to World War I (WWI) – the War to end all Wars – Yokes stated that total casualties of those military and civilian wounded and killed exceeded 41 million people from all the nations that were involved. Of that, 4.7 million Americans served with 53,000 killed in combat and over 204,000 wounded. Since WWI, 640,000 men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Turning his comments to information regarding TNC, Yokes stated that in fiscal year 2017, staff completed 3,252 interments – thankfully of which there were no KIA. He also thanked the TNC team members, staff and volunteers for all their hard work and devotion. Because of this, TNC received the NCA (National Cemetery Administration) Customer Satisfaction Award for fiscal year 2017. The areas they were recognized for include – Customers quality of service received from the staff; overall appearance of the National Cemetery; customers recommending the cemetery to Veteran families in their time of need; customer satisfaction with their experiences at the National Cemetery; and the appearance of loved one’s gravesite or columbaria niche.

While Gateway Concert Band performed America, the Beautiful, one of the members read the powerful The American’s Creedwritten in 1917 by William Tyler Page and accepted by the United States House of Representatives on April 3, 1918… I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

“Memorial Day is our nation’s solemn reminder that freedom is never free. It is a moment of collective reflection on the noble sacrifices of those who gave the last measure of devotion in service of our ideals and in the defense of our nation. On this ceremonious day, we remember the fallen, we pray for a lasting peace among nations, and we honor these guardians of our inalienable rights.” – Donald J. Trump, 45thPresident of the United States of America, May 2018