Great Falls Celebrates Memorial Day

Great Falls Celebrates Memorial Day

First Memorial Day ceremony held at Great Falls Freedom Memorial.

Freedom has a price, a name, a story, and those who fought to preserve it need to be remembered.

To commemorate Memorial Day, Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial held a simple ceremony Monday afternoon, welcoming home Joshua Roots, a native of Great Falls and captain of the United States Marine Corps.

"Memorial Day is about three things," Roots said, addressing a crowd of approximately 30 people. "It's about those who have served and gone before us, those who are currently serving their country, and about you, the American citizens who support them."

Without the men and women who fought in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, "we wouldn't have a path to follow," Roots said. "Whether it was the beaches of Normandy, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Grenada or Kuwait or Desert Storm, the sacrifices our soldiers made were made in blood for us."

The constant availability of news and information via television and the Internet have changed the "gory and graphic" representation of battle, Roots said, allowing families at home to see and almost experience what their soldiers are enduring.

"Soldiers know what they are walking into, they are not only willing but able and ready" to risk their lives defending their country, he said. "Today's soldiers in Iraq have been called street ambassadors, but not all of the good work they do — building schools, opening hospitals, educating women over there — are always portrayed," Roots said. "With the flip of a switch, these men who were entrenched in battle the day before can be as human and tender as you and I. Warfare has changed from what we've seen in the past."

The support soldiers receive, either directly or theoretically, from family, friends and neighbors in America is "so important," he said. "It's more important than anything else. No matter how bad things get overseas, the knowledge that people put their 'Support Our Troops' magnets on their cars means so much."

After the Vietnam War, Roots said his father, John, also a Marine Corps veteran, experienced a much different kind of homecoming than the one he recently received himself.

"For some veterans, the battles they fought in Vietnam were nothing compared to the battles on the home front when they returned," he said. "Luckily, we've been able to separate the politics from the person."

REMEMBERING VETERANS, both living and dead, and their families on Memorial Day is "about who we are as a nation. It's about being Americans. It's about our heart and soul," Roots said.

Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois opened the ceremony by thanking those in attendance for sharing the holiday.

"We are here to pay tribute to the fallen heroes who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom," DuBois said. "May we remember them not only today, but throughout the year."

During the invocation, Rev. Richard Keller asked people to "remember those from Great Falls who have died so others may live," and asked that those who live on be "worthy of their sacrifice."

Just to the edge of the Freedom Memorial, a table covered in a plain white cloth was set for four unseen guests.

"Prior to Vietnam, this tradition was started by aviators," said Pete Hilgartner, president of the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial. "The empty chair is for those who will never attend our table again," he said.

Six weeping cherry trees have been planted around the Freedom Memorial in honor of the six Great Falls residents who died in the September 11 attacks almost four years ago, he said.