In a moving tribute staged under glorious sunny skies and effused with the pageantry of military colors, patriotic songs and solemn invocations, thousands of veterans, families and special guests gathered amid the granite grandeur of the Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery Sunday to pay tribute to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
With U.S. flags and those of all the military branches swaying in the breeze of a veritable perfect day, speaker after speaker at the 31st Memorial Day service invoked the shared purpose of the gathering – that of rendering honor to all who have served.
“Rest well brave souls for your is the rest of heroes,” said James Metcalfe, II, director of the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.
At every turn, a service rich in patriotic themes offered equally generous measures of solace: Words spoken at the podium — might, valor, courage, sacrifice, gratitude, duty and honor — underscored a national holiday that despite its popularity for ushering in summer demands pause for reflection.
From an Armed Forces medley played by the 28th Infantry Division Brass Quintet to a rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” song by Stephen Swartzbaugh, the memorial service compelled those in their seats to display the emotions of the heart.
Veterans still in the vigor of their youth stood tall, side-by-side to comrades visibly in their ninth decade of life, the hats of their military branch on their heads. All stood at attention at the Massing of Colors, the young and the old – a frail hand trembling in salute as the other hand clutched a walking cane.
A guest list of military dignitaries was recognized- among them (Ret.) Lt. Col. Nicholas M. Taylor and (Ret.) Capt. William J. McEllroy, Jr. And that then, was followed by a moving roll call of those in the general audience – the men and women and their families of the Armed Forces. They were asked to stand as they were called by conflict.
First called for recognition, the Gold Star families. Then the World War II veterans and their families. The Korean War veterans. Vietnam War veterans. Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Iraq. Afghanistan – and Cold War veterans.
As those in the audience rose when called, the thousands in their seats offered up applause, a show of gratitude for those who served, those who are serving and those killed in combat.
“Rest well brave souls for your is the rest of heroes.” -James Metcalfe, II, director of the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.
“Today we have gathered to solemnly remember those who were called to make the supreme sacrifice and now rest with you oh Lord,” said the Rev. Lawrence Sherdel, chaplain with the Catholic War Veterans, Department of Pennsylvania. “Now the red, white and blue of our nation’s flags gently wave over their final resting place….Lord help us to honor them sincerely with the dignity they deserve. Especially those who are forgotten or who have no one left on Earth to remember them.”
Metcalfe called the day one of mourning and meaning for remembering and showing respect.
“In this place and in so many other places across America and around the world, people will struggle to find the words that can give proper honor to the lives of those departed heroes knowing full well words alone are never enough,” he said. “Our ceremony today is about rendering proper honor to the men and women who have devoted their lives and their selfless service in the name of a timeless cause on behalf of noble principles greater than self.”
Said Taylor: “A nation reveals itself not only by men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers. Today we remember and honor the American soldier, sailor, airman, marine, coast guard men. Ordinary men and women who died while in military service.”
Memorial Day, he said, is not to be a day of solemn mourning but a day of reverence celebration.
“Freedom is not free,” Taylor said. “It has a cost.”
Linking those who had served and died with those who serve today, Taylor said that while progress had been made in Iraq and Afghanistan, the job of the U.S. military was not finished.
“In this world terror will not rest, violence will not sleep, evil will not die,” Taylor said. “If we honor and remember those who have served, compassion will prevail, justice will triumph and freedom will reign.”