G-A observes Memorial Day

Shawn Hardy
After retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Damian Bess, left, spoke at Greencastle's Memorial Day ceremony, he was greeted by fellow Iraq veteran Merritt Hammond of Greencastle, who retired from the U.S. Army. SHAWN HARDY/ECHO PILOT

Children and adults in red, white and blue gathered on the sidewalk along Baltimore Street Monday morning as the Greencastle-Antrim community's Memorial Day commemoration got underway with a parade featuring veterans organizations, Boy Scouts, the G-A Middle School and High School bands, the Rescue Hose Co. and a few others.

The parade moved west to Cedar Hill Cemetery for a ceremony organized this year by Harry D. Zeigler VFW Post 6319.

Following a welcome by VFW Commander Robert Brown and prayer by Pastor Jeff Ehko, Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr. spoke of the more than 150 local residents who have lost their lives in war.

He mentioned his uncle, who died at Guadalcanal on Jan. 14, 1943, during World War II and "our friend Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Bitner," who was killed in Afghanistan on April 23, 2011, then encouraged everyone at the ceremony to visit the memorial wall in front of the Greencastle police station.

"We are here today because of the great sacrifice of the many who have gone before," Brown said in his remarks. "But sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. America's collective consciousness demands that all citizens recall and be aware of the deaths of their fellow countrymen and women during wartime.

"Far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy," Brown continued. "Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That's why they are all collectively remembered on one special day — Memorial Day!"

The guest speaker, retired Marine Corps. Lt. Col. Damian A. Bess did know some who paid for those freedom with their lives, six Marines who served with him in Fallujah, Iraq.

"I have never been in a position to publicly thank them for their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families, so this day is my opportunity to do that and I ask you to join me in my remembrance," said Bess, who is now deputy to the commander at Letterkenny Army Depot.

He talked about the background, family and service role of each of the six and how they died: Sgt. Glen Martinez, Cpl. Miguel Guzman, Lance Cpl. Casey Casanova, Lance Cpl. James Kimple, Cpl. Stewart Trejo and Cpl. Adam McKiski.

He quoted Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did ... 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 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 these dead shall not have died in vain."

"While Abraham Lincoln was talking about the Battle of Gettysburg and the need that the lives expended inspire all to reunite the country, I think his words continue to apply to the lives of our servicemen and women today and tomorrow," Bess said. "That their sacrifice should be made under God with the purpose of preserving the freedoms America has always stood for and continue to be a shining light to the rest of the world and a mighty force against the great evils that rise up from time to time."

Bess concluded by encouraging members of the audience to take time in the coming week "to read a book or watch a movie about these men and women and their sacrifice, to spend more than the few moments of this ceremony to fill your soul with the spirit of those men and women who have gone before. Let us never forget, freedom isn't free."

The ceremony was brought to a close with a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps."