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Service honors freedom

The Memorial Day crowd gathers behind the Veterans Park statue depicting a serviceman’s boots, helmet and rifle. (WDN Photos/Vail Stewart Rumley)

For many, Memorial Day means burgers sizzling on the grill, boats tearing across the water, a traditional celebration of summer’s start with good company. But for those gathered Monday at Veterans Park in Washington, the occasion was much more solemn.

Flags waved at half-mast during the annual Memorial Day ceremony in which those who have fallen in the name of American freedom were honored. Present were active duty, reserved, and retired military from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, friends, families, and those who abide by the Golden Rule of patriotism: Never forget.

Rev. Linwood Lewis, Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary, Unit 48 commander Melba Sayer and past state DAVA commander Shirley McIntire drove home the message of sacrifice through word and song, while guest speaker Frank Huffman expanded it to include not only those who’ve died in uniform, but those who’ve sacrificed their lives to attain freedom.

Huffman, Disabled American Veterans state chaplain and host chaplain for the American Legion, spoke of freedom fighters through the ages, from Biblical times, to members of the Continental Congress framing the Declaration of Independence, to the many Quakers killed for escorting slaves through the Underground Railroad. He mentioned Nathan Hale, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. as among the number who’ve sacrificed their lives for others.

“Freedom is the world’s most sought after quality,” said Huffman.

Local barbershop quartet, Men ‘n a Chord, put freedom to melody with “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America The Beautiful” and “God Bless America,” while the armed services were recognized as personnel, past and present, stood as each branch’s official song was played.

Most in attendance wore red, white and blue. Umbrellas warding off bright sun, along with caps designating service and veteran status, dotted the full stands. The ceremony was patriotic and festive, yet as Rosco and Martha Howard, DAV and DAVA Unit 48 members, laid a wreath in honor of lost servicemen and when a lone trumpet played the mournful notes of Taps, the focus was remembrance.

Army Vietnam veteran Leland McIntire remembered his son, a disabled Navy veteran who passed away two years ago. Beaufort County Emergency Management coordinator John Pack, an Army Vietnam veteran, remembered his son, his father and many others with whom he served.

The ceremony closed with the raising of the flag to full mast and the echo of Huffman’s words of all that it symbolizes: “As long as it flies, we are a free people in a free country.”