Memorial Day's true meaning was summed up in three words by the keynote speaker at Alexandria National Cemetery Monday morning — "Lest we forget."
Noting that May 30 is actually Memorial Day, William G. L.Turner, National Commander, Heroes of '76 and a retired Lt. Col., United States Air Force Reserve, told the assembled audience at the nation's oldest national cemetery, "We have lost the true meaning of the day. We owe our veteran's more than we can ever give them."
Dressed in the uniform of the Virginia Regulars of the Revolutionary War, Turner said, "It is the veterans who have given this nation all its freedoms. To be born free is an accident. To live free is a privilege. To die free is an obligation."
Those sentiments were echoed by Alvin "Bear" Wyman, PhD, Capt. USAF (Ret) and past president, Arlington Hall Chapter 440, National Sojourners, Inc., under whose aegis the annual ceremony is held. It is especially dedicated to honoring the many unknown soldiers buried in the cemetery.
"Freedom is not free. We do not come here each year to mourn them but to honor them," Wyman emphasized in initiating the 45 minute tribute to the 4,000-plus buried at the site. Of those, 127 are unknown.
Joining Wyman and Turner in honoring the fallen throughout the nation's conflicts was William M. Jones, post commander, Russell Mitchell Post 609, Alexandria Chapter, Veterans of Foreign Wars, which joined the Sojourners, a Masonic organization and Heroes of '76, in leading the observance.
"The Alexandria National Cemetery is the "Crown Jewel" of the National Cemetery system created by President Abraham Lincoln to inter the casualties of our nation's only Civil War," Jones noted. "It was the first National Cemetery."
ESTABLISHED IN 1862, "The first burial in a national cemetery took place here," Jones said. "Black soldiers were buried here making it the first integrated cemetery in the nation. Among the graves of war veterans will be found four civilians who lost their lives while pursuing President Lincoln's assassins.
"This is the only instance of honoring civilians with interment in a national cemetery. The wealth of history associated with Alexandria National Cemetery and those interred here imbues this hallowed ground as a veteran's "Westminster Abbey."
Alexandria National Cemetery is under the control and maintenance of Quantico National Cemetery, according to Paula Suarez, program analyst, Quantico National Cemetery. She was joined at the Alexandria observance by Paul McFarland, assistant director, Quantico National Cemetery.
"We are grateful for the efforts of Quantico in correcting the damage incurred by the cemetery during Hurricane Isabel, Wyman acknowledged in his opening remarks prior to the invocation by Douglas L. Jordan, CDR, SW Camp, CDR, USCG (Ret).
Turner also referred to last September's storm in emphasizing the importance of remembering the unknown military who "made the ultimate sacrifice." He recalled how members of the U.S. Army's Old Guard, who protect and patrol the National Tomb of The Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery, refused to leave their post during the storm.
"There has not been a break in the guard duty which takes place 24/7 365 days a year since the tomb was erected in 1930," Turner noted. "When the commanding officer suggested a break during the hurricane their unanimous answer was, 'No Sir.'"
AS PART OF THE ceremonies, Boy Scouts from Troop 875 led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and singing "You're A Grand Old Flag." Troop member Jason Hayes, singularly delivered the "Toast To The Flag."
Following the Pledge, Herbert C. Hollander, president, AH 440, and Col. USA, (Ret), read the Purposes of National Sojourners and Heroes. In that, he noted, "Sojourners remember that George Washington once said, "When we assumed the soldier we did not lay aside the citizen."
At the close of the annual ceremony "Taps" was played by Harry H. Horning, president, Kena Shrine Band. He was joined by drummer Jack C. Whistler, Col. USA (Ret), Light Horse Harry Lee Camp.
The observance concluded with a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" performed by Pipe Corporal Gregory J. Duncan-Peters, a member of the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. After the formal ceremony, audience members were issued red carnations which they placed on graves of the unknowns throughout the cemetery.