“Today, we gather to remember and honor the sacrifices that many of our young men and women have made in service to this great nation by paying the ultimate prices with their lives so that we can continue to live and enjoy the freedom they’ve given us.”
It’s a remembrance that is near, dear and absolutely essential for United States Navy veteran Amy Clemens, whose family ties to the Armed Forces and whose journeys to battlefields and soldiers’ grave sites have underscored the sanctity of their sacrifice. Guest speaker for Monday’s Memorial Day Service at the Gladewater War Memorial, Clemens found a warm welcome from the veterans, families and others paying their respects May 29.
“What is the official purpose of Memorial Day?” pondered Danny Sorrells, president of the Gladewater Former Students’ Association, which established the black stone monument on Pacific Avenue in 2002. “It is a day of reflection and remembrance of those who died while serving in the United States military.
“Let’s remember to think of those who have sacrificed for our freedoms that we enjoy every day.”
Association member Larry Clemens welcomed the military and civilian audience Monday.
While grateful for those who offer ‘Happy Memorial Day’ wishes, Clemens reminded the crowd, “This day should not be deemed happy, but as a day to remember and honor… Our community thanks you and welcomes you to this gathering as we pay tribute to and thank the brave men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.”
Darren Richardson led the audience in the National Anthem this year while Maj. Robert Green (U.S. Army, ret.) led the Pledge of Allegiance and the Rev. Kelton Wilson offered an opening prayer.
Gladewater Mayor Scott Owens presented the city’s Memorial Day Proclamation, joined by Councilwoman Brandy Flanagan in exhorting the community to “join voices with the rest of the United States in paying respect to honor fallen soldiers and the families they left behind.”
The organizers honored all veterans in attendance Monday by inviting them to stand in turn during the playing of the service anthems for Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Army.
Leslie Willeford, another association member, took the podium briefly to read the veterans’ names that have been added to the downtown memorial in the past year.
Marine Corps veteran Leon Watson closed the ceremony with the traditional raising of the flag from half-staff to the playing of “Taps.” The familiar notes are not a song, Clemens noted in her remarks, but a bugle call crafted from another signal in July 1862 and eventually used at a military funeral in 1911.
Detailing Memorial Day traditions, Clemens also highlighted the wearing of red poppies, which originated in 1915 following the poem “In Flander’s Field” by Lt. Col. John McCrae.
“While the poppies grew among the graves, they are also a resilient flower,” Clemens recalled. “The poppy is able to lie dormant for many years in the soil only to reappear in great numbers. This held significance for Lt. Col. McCrae as he wrote of the heroes who appeared in great numbers to come to the aid of others against oppression and tyranny during this Great War and would lie dormant until their call was heard again.”
In her remarks, Clemens provided a short history of Memorial Day, initially called Decoration Day following the Civil War. After World War I, the remembrance evolved to honor all Americans who died fighting in any war, and the National Holiday Act of 1971 designated Memorial Day observations on the last Monday in May.
An East Texas native, Clemens eventually joined the Navy, a common destination in her family, and spent 4 years in the service as an Aviation Electrician’s Mate. She followed her time in the Armed Forces with a career in theater and education, often incorporating military tributes into performances.
“I’ve always felt that it was important for this generation of kids to know, understand and appreciate that the freedoms they enjoy were earned by others’ sacrifice.”