15th annual Memorial Day ceremony at Bisset Park
Flags all across the country flew at half-mast Monday, tipping their colors in honor of those who donned the various uniforms of America’s military branches. While many who celebrate the national holiday see Memorial Day as a means to honor those who died in combat, the message those in attendance at the 15 annual Memorial Day Celebration in Bisset Park stretched the honors to include those who lived full lives in uniform and died naturally, and veterans and servicemen and women still living.
“We gather here to honor all veterans, alive and who have passed,” said Radford Army Ammunition Plant Commander Byron Penland during his address Monday. “Just because they didn’t die in battle doesn’t mean they should not be honored and remembered this day.”
Penland had all veterans and servicemen present stand to be recognized, and applause echoed across the park as those present showed their gratitude and support.
“This is a time of year for renewal and strength after a winter of loss and silence,” Penland said. “… Along with this comes a reminder to pass on and renew the stories of the bravery and sacrifice of our great warriors to the children of tomorrow.”
Penland closed by challenging all present to seek out an active or retired service member and thank them for their commitment to uphold and fight for American ideals. “Let their legacy be remembered. We have an equal responsibility to honor those still living as well as the dead.”
Radford mayor Bruce Brown expressed his gratitude to the citizens of Radford present at the ceremony.
“It is a distinct honor and privilege to host the 15th annual Memorial Day ceremony,” Brown said. “Allow us to pause and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our nation.”
Brown shared a story about his father, a World War II vet, and how his father and a “high school buddy” enlisted at age 15 after convincing a recruiter they were of age. His father was awarded the Purple Heart at age 17 after sustaining an injury during a naval battle.
“I’m blessed to be a descendant of that generation,” Brown said. “I hope we all can be informed, involved, go volunteer and make a difference to someone to honor those who served and died for our country.”
Event coordinator and emcee Bob Thomas echoed Brown’s statement.
“We take this opportunit today to proudly and publicly honor those that served, fought and died for our country,” he said. “We started this event 15 years ago with a very small crowd. Now it’s grown to such a large event. We’re grateful to our military servicemen, we’re grateful to the people of this city.”
Delegate Joseph Yost and Congressman Morgan Griffith both gave a speech, both expressing the need for citizens to remember the local vets who gave their lives, to pass on their legacy to the next generation.
“We honor their memories by striving to continue to hold and support the ideals for which they gave their lives,” Yost said.
“A nation mourns as one today, and we need to remember why,” Griffith said. “We need to make sure others understand, especially the young people. It’s important to remember. … We can tell stories, read poems, share memories of fallen loved ones. That’s how we pass it on, that’s how we as a culture remember our fallen heroes.”
One serviceman in attendance, Eric Pack, 47, of Radford, a specialist with the 760th Engineers based out of Marion, was overcome with gratitude as patrons at the event thanked him for his service and shook his hand.
“It’s a really good feeling, seeing all these people here today,” Pack said. “The support — it’s just humbling, it really is.
“People came up to me today, shook my hand, and all I can say to them is, ‘Thank you for your support.’ I appreciate it, a whole lot. It’s nice to know there are people out there that care.”
Pack, who has a 7-year-old daughter and two stepchildren, is preparing to deploy for the first time to Kabul, Afganistan, on Aug. 19.
“The hardest thing about this is I’ll miss my little girl’s eighth and ninth birthdays. I’ll be gone for 14 months. Leaving her is the hardest part,” Pack said. “But it’s good to know people are thankful, and that makes it worth it.”
At the end of the ceremony, before Amazing Grace was played by Grayson County bagpiper Andrew Meeks, the names of the 59 Radford servicemen who died in the line of duty, were read aloud, one at a time. Their names echoed across the park, and each name was punctuated by the silence of the crowd.
By Aaron Atkins