Men and women who sacrificed for their country recognized on Memorial Day
More than 50 million Americans have served in the armed forces from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present. During that service, more than 1 million lost their lives.
“That is a staggering statistic, and we must not lose sight of the fact that they were all real men and women … someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife or father or mother,” Rear Adm. Grafton Chase said during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at Greencastle’s Cedar Hill Cemetery.
“Today we are here to recognize the heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice to enable us to enjoy the freedoms we all too often take for granted,” said Chase, who was commissioned through Naval Officer Candidate School in 1986 and affiliated with the Navy Reserve in 1996, with a variety of assignments, including deployments in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.
He made that message personal, talking about Blake Whipple, who went to school with his son and hung out at their house “watching TV, playing video games, throwing a baseball in our backyard and eating through groceries as any teenager would do.”
On Nov. 5, 2010, the Army soldier was killed in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device. He’d just returned from rest and relaxation, during which he celebrated his 21st birthday with his parents.
“Each Memorial Day and Nov. 5, my son and I both pause to honor Blake and shed a few tears, but throughout the year we fondly remember his life and the joy he brought us with his contagious smile,” Chase said. “I encourage all of you to not just memorialize our fallen service members today, but to honor their life throughout the year.”
He closed with a quotation from “The Four Feathers" by A.E.W. Mason: “For those who have traveled to fight in foreign lands, know that the soldier’s greatest comfort is to have his friends close at hand. In the heat of battle, it ceases to be an idea for which to fight. Or a flag. Rather, we fight for the man on our left and we fight for the man on our right. And when armies are scattered and the empires fall away, all that remains is the memory of those precious moments that we spent side by side.”
One man with whom Chase spent time side by side is Mike Blank, commander of Greencastle’s Harry D. Zeigler VFW Post 6319, which organized Monday’s parade and ceremony. They served together in Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 10 about 24 years ago and had overlapping deployments to the Middle East in 2005.
“As barbecues, picnics and other activities take place this weekend, we must remain ever cognizant of the expensive price tag that comes along with these daily freedoms we enjoy,” Blank said. “Those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live free of tyranny and fear believed in something greater than themselves. They believed in the American way of life and were willing to die protecting it.”
In addition to honoring the fallen, both men recognized those who are serving or have served in the military. Arms were raised throughout the audience when Blank asked them for a show of hands.
Chase noted Armed Forces Day was observed on May 21 and said, “I also would like to recognize all currently serving military members and veterans in the audience … in particulate any World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans. You are an inspiration to us all, and I am honored to have followed in your footsteps.”
Shawn Hardy is a reporter with USA TODAY Network's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org