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Memorial Day Remembrance

Leesburg's annual celebration for America's armed forces has persevered after almost dying out several years ago.

Four years ago, there was no Memorial Day celebration in Leesburg.

People showed up on the lawn in front of the courthouse anyway to honor the men and women who died fighting America's battles.

Leesburg chiropractor Dr. Peter Hilgartner read about the incident in a newspaper soon thereafter. And in the years since, it's been Hilgartner who's helped bring the day of remembrance back to a real event for Loudoun veterans and families.

"I think it's important that the younger generation are shown what Memorial Day is," said Hilgartner, who served as an artillery battery commander in the first Gulf War.

This Memorial Day, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, Sons of the Confederate Veterans and the Military Order of Stars and Bars joined Leesburg Mayor Kristin Umstattd in honoring the country's fallen soldiers in the traditional wreath-laying at the feet of monuments.

National Guardsmen who died serving the United States in Manassas' 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division in the last year were also honored: National Guardsmen Sgt. Bobby E. Beasley, a West Virginian, and Sgt. Craig W. Cherry, of Winchester, died in Afghanistan after their vehicle hit an "IED," or improvised explosive device. Pvt. 1st Class Kyle Homer, a Wisconsin native, died in Afghanistan last week due to non-combat-related injuries.

Members of the 116th Infantry, which has companies based in Winchester and Leesburg currently serving in Afghanistan, posted the colors at Monday's remembrance.

BRIG. GEN. John E. Sayers Jr., a Virginia Military Institute graduate and current Assistant Adjutant General of the Virginia Army National Guard, recalled why Memorial Day is a day of note, especially in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world.

"The events since Sept. 11 parallel and are very similar to the attacks of Dec. 7, 1941," Sayers said. On that day, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, touching off the World War II in the Pacific theater. The country would not be attacked on American soil again until 2001.

"In 1941, the Axis enemies did not understand the United States and our resolve to preserve our way of life," Sayers said.

Sayers recounted a visit to Bed ford, Va., a small hamlet that's home to Roe Stevens. Along with his twin brother, Stevens landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Unlike his brother, Stevens made it out alive and eventually went home to the farm the two had bought together, slowly putting back together the life his family had built before the war.

"To me, he will always symbolize the greatness of American soldiers," Sayers said. "He wrestled with the problem of why he survived and Ray didn't."

Del. Joe T. May (R-33) served in the U.S. Army from 1955-1958. He reiterated the importance of always remembering — never forgetting.

"It just reminds the folks that are out there that ... people are continuing to appreciate it," he said.