Memorial celebrations took place across the county this weekend in honor of the military men and women who have given their lives in service of our country.
Saturday’s Memorial Day parade in Leitchfield featured a sea of volunteers carrying signs printed with the names of local service men and women who paid for our freedom with their lives.
The parade ended at the Center on Main, where state and local leaders, veterans, family members of those who died, and local citizens wishing to join in the commemoration gathered.
Following a commemorative tolling of the bells, and the National Anthem as sung by the Grayson County High School Choir, the invocation was given by Purple Heart and Iraq-Bronze Star recipient Jeff Allen.
Musical performances were also offered up by Lawler and Wilkey Elementary chorus students and a string quartet from the Grayson County High School Orchestra.
Special guests were recognized for their military service, including Marvin Heady, a Vietnam veteran who served two tours of duty and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart; Joiner Lancaster, a World War II pilot; J. T. Armstrong, a Korean War veteran; Dudley VanMeter, a Korean War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star; and Elbert “Boots” Beamer, a Korean War veteran who was also awarded a Bronze Star.
A roll call of local veterans who passed away in the last year was read by Mayor William Thomason as the crowd remembered these community members in silence.
Keynote speaker Al Cross, a former Grayson County resident, called such ceremonies of remembrance “one of the most deeply meaningful traditions any country can have.”
Cross intoned the words of Oliver Wendell Homes, who said, “At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.”
He went on to speak of the generational differences that have caused veterans to become regretfully overlooked in today’s society and called the crowd not only to remember those who have been lost to pay for our freedom, but to care for those who returned home.
Many of those returned men and women were present on Monday as the American Legion Post 81 held its annual Memorial Day ceremony with Post 81 Commander Shane Thomason serving as Master of Ceremonies for the event.
“Let’s remember the men and women who paid the ultimate price,” said Thomason, prior to reading the names of Grayson County veterans from all American conflicts who were killed in action.
Adjutant Cliff Hazelwood then led the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) program, during which members of Post 81 prepare a single table in remembrance of the soldiers who have been captured or are missing in action.
After the POW/MIA program, guest speaker Command Master Chief Bill Vermillion, of Leitchfield, provided the keynote address.
“We, as Americans, are very blessed,” said Vermillion, who added that the patriotism in Kentucky, and especially Grayson County, is evident.
“This nation loves peace,” he said. “In order to live in peace, a nation must prepare for war.”
Vermillion, a U.S. Naval veteran, said throughout the nation’s history, Americans have stood ready to answer the call to war to defend freedom.
“I used to tell my sailors, ‘If ever you think you don’t have any friends, you’ve had [more than 1,321,600 Americans] lay down their lives for you,’” he said.
“Here today we honor those men and women,” Vermillion said. “We remember them - yes, each and every one of them - with the love of a grateful nation.”
Following Vermillion’s address, veterans of past American conflicts presented wreaths to commemorate all of the men and women who were killed in those conflicts.
The event closed with the flags’ being raised to full mast, and the commemorative rifle volley.