HOUSTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Texas–As Americans gathered across the United States to honor their fallen heroes, over 1,000 people gathered at the Houston National Veteran’s Cemetery to honor those who died in service to our country. The touching ceremony was full of all the color, pomp and circumstance one would expect from such a solemn event. Military and government leaders addressed the crowd and promised never to forget those who died that we might live in the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.
A cannon volley opened the pageantry followed by a bugle call for assembly from USMC Sgt. Mark Collado. Colonel E.A. “Buddy” Grantham, Commander of the 76th Training Command (U.S. Army Reserve) acted as Master of Ceremonies and guided the audience through the day’s events. After the presentation of the Colors by cadets of the Alief Hastings High School JROTC unit, a parade of organizational units honor guards marched before the assembled audience. This was followed by the presentation of wreaths honoring the fallen warriors of our nation’s wars.
Houston area Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) said, “Texans have a special place in their hearts for veterans.” Poe, an Air Force Veteran himself, noted that one in nine American service members are Texans. The audience also heard from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Congressmen Gene Green (D-TX)and Al Green (D-TX). Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) was represented by Rachel David, Deputy Houston District Director and Senator Ted Cruz were represented by David Sawyer, Houston District Director.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker delivered a welcome and a proclamation from the City of Houston. She expressed the gratitude of the city to those Houstonians who have given their lives in service. She said she wished as many Houstonians would come out to recognize our fallen warriors as there are gravestones in the fields. The Houston National Veterans Cemetery is the second largest in the nation according to Congressman Poe. He stated there are over 70,000 veterans buried in this beautiful setting.
Hundreds of volunteers came out on Sunday to decorate the 70,000 grave sites by placing an American flag in front of each prayer and saying a prayer in memory of the deceased veteran, Poe told the assembled audience.
Many of the Members of Congress spoke of the need to improve the quality of medical care to our injured veterans in light of the Obama Administrations failure to provide adequate care for those who are suffering injuries and illness from their service to our country. Congressman Al Green delivered perhaps the most passionate speech of the day and called for jailing those who might be responsible for any criminal cover-up of the improper treatment of our ailing veterans.
Perhaps the largest ovation of the day came when former Marine Josh Flynn sang a beautiful rendition of a song made famous by the country band, Diamond Rio, “In God We Still Trust“. The moving ballad brought everyone to their feet.
Air Force Colonel Terrance Winkler, Vice-Commander of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, delivered a keynote speech that touched the hearts of many in the audience.
“Memorial Day grew out of the human need to remember where we have been,” Col. Winkler began. “Only then can we figure out where we are going. The cherished memories of a nation, a state, a city, or a family provide the values and dreams that one generation passes on to the next. Forgetting means dropping the torch.”
Winkler reminded the audience that Memorial Day grew out of President Abraham Lincoln’s dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19th, 1863 after more than 40,000 soldiers had sacrificed their lives in the effort to hold this nation together.
Quoting from parts of the Gettysburg Address Lincoln delivered that day, Winkler said, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Winkler then skipped to the end of the brief Lincoln address where he said, “Less than two minutes later, [Lincoln] concluded, ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here (referring to the sacrifice of the soldiers). It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
Winkler explained the history of the holiday we now celebrate, Memorial Day. After Gettysburg, many communities came together and set aside special days to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. He explained that some of these held little fanfare while others involved elaborate marching bands and speeches. “All included decorating soldier’s graves with flowers and flags,” Winkler explained. “Most towns referred to the event as Decoration Day. After World War I the day expanded to honor the American heroes of all wars.”
He explained that Congress eventually set May 30th as the official holiday and changed the name to Memorial Day. “In 1971, Congress moved the date to the last Monday in May.”
“Why Memorial Day?” Winkler asked. “Because we don’t want to forget. We desperately want the next generation to remember the lives, the legacies, and the lessons of those upon whose shoulders we stand. We want to remember the men and women who paid for our freedom with their blood. We want to remember that famous verse ‘Greater love has no on that this, that he lay down his life for his friends.'”
Winkler reminded the audience to look back to the founders of this great nation. “Consider the fifty-seven men who signed the Declaration of Independence. Those men were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. Most were soft-spoken men of means and education. Twenty-five were lawyers or judges. Nine were farmers or plantation owners. Eleven were merchants. The patriot group also included physicians, educators, a musician, a printer and a minister. Several were sons of pastors. They has security, but they valued liberty more.”
“Despite the danger,” Winkler continued, “they defiantly penned their names beneath the words: ‘For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.'”
“We enjoy the abundance and freedom that we did not pay for,” Col. Winkler concluded. “None of use went through the hard pioneer days when our forefathers battled to build this city and state. Most of our farmers are the beneficiaries of the hard work of others who cleared the land and built the homesteads. Even those who grew enterprises from the ground up started on the foundations laid by others. We may have worked hard all our lives, but we labored with opportunities won by others.”
The ceremony concluded with a twenty-one gun salute from the VFW District 4 Ceremonial Detail, Company A, 13th U.S. Regular Infantry and the 15th Texas Infantry (Confederate). This was followed by Taps performed by USMC Sgt. Mark Collado and a cannon salute from the Sons of Confederate and Union Veterans groups.
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