Pause to remember America’s true heroes
The Memorial Day involves, for many, family cookouts, baseball, pool parties and other summer kick off activities lends to our sense of togetherness as a people and defines us as Americans is only fitting, U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, said.
“But we must not lose sight of this holiday’s true meaning,” Williams said. “Today we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country and those who protected the freedoms we all take for granted. I’m talking about the men and women we celebrate today who represent the most elite protectors of the United States of America.”
Williams and about 80 others gathered at the Cleburne Memorial Cemetery on Monday morning to honor America’s service men and women who answered duty’s call and gave their all.
“America is truly exceptional and an exceptional country,” Williams said. “That is a tribute to those who put on a uniform and gave everything for their nation. All made sacrifices. Some never came home.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of his job, Williams said, is the honor of serving a congressional district that includes Fort Hood.
“Or, as I tell people in Washington, D.C., 242 square miles of bring it on,” Williams said. “To be able to fight for them in Washington is truly humbling to me.”
Williams concluded his remarks by urging residents to seek out and thank a veteran.
“Shake their hand and tell them how much their service and sacrifice means to you and all of us,” Williams said. “As I say, simply tell them you love them. They are the men and women who gave up their today so we can all have a tomorrow.”
Members of Cleburne’s American Legion Post 50, as they have for years, once again hosted the annual Memorial Day ceremony, which saw attendance from veterans and their families, Cleburne firefighters and police officers, area residents and local officials.
Jeff Perkins, a member of Texas American Legion Post 453 and former Coast Guard member, brought his creation, The Wall, along. The multi-paneled wall display features pictures of the deceased service men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.
The display includes not only those killed in action but also those who served during that time and have since died. Perkins estimated that he’s put at least 50,000 miles on his truck carting The Wall throughout Texas.
“I’ve read every story for everybody on that wall,” Perkins said. “It’s an honor and privilege to go out and display our fallen heros.”
Reflecting on why he undertook the project, Perkins turned to the four pillars of the American Legion, the first being veterans’ rehabilitation.
“I take it out so the public can see our fallen heros and so [service members] who are still alive can see their fallen brothers and sisters.”
Americanism, the second pillar, plays a role as well.
“There is nothing more American than that wall,” Perkins said. “That represents America. They paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free.”
Equally important if not more so is the third pillar, children and youth.
“I’m tired of children who think an $8 million quarterback is a real hero,” Perkins said. “When I get the chance I take The Wall to schools and tell those kids, ‘There’s your real heros. You need to forget about those quarterbacks.’”
Community supplies the final pillar.
“That wall represents 256 cities across Texas,” Perkins said. “Since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve lost 6,920 and in Texas we’ve lost 609. Their ages vary from 18 to 69. The 69 year old was from Texas. He was a colonel serving in the reserves who got called up.”
State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, said that although his parents taught him the values of sacrifice as well as honor for flag and military from an early age, the importance of such did not truly click until an eighth grade field trip he took to Washington, D.C.
State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, recalls a trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial he participated in during a middle school field trip. Burns spoke during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Cleburne Memorial Cemetery.
Burns’ mother asked him to make a rubbing of Billy Gene Wade’s name at the Vietnam Memorial, which he did.
“I brought it home and gave it to mom and dad and I saw my dad cry,” Burns said. “My dad was a Vietnam vet. Billy Gene Wade was his first cousin and his best friend growing up.”
Burns and his parents gave the rubbing to Wade’s parents the following Christmas.
“I can’t tell you how much they appreciated it,” Burns said. “That was the first time I truly grasped internally the emotion and value of loss, service and sacrifice and what it means to families when they have family members who don’t come back. It stings and it doesn’t go away.”
Burns recalled a subsequent visit to the Vietnam Memorial 25 years later just himself and his father, who has since passed away, on a cold, rainy night and reflected on what the experience meant to him and his father.
Just as Jesus came to serve and sacrifice so too do the men and women of America’s military, Burns said.
“I believe it’s a ministry being a soldier and serving others is a ministry, no question about it,” Burns said. “And I’m just thankful to those who have answered that call and all those who will answer that call in the future.”
Ron Shultz, Texas American Legion 6th District chaplain, stressed the importance of those who gave their lives protecting America and the need to honor those veterans still among us and those men and women still serving. For them, duty never ends, Shultz said.
“Their enlistment may have ended but their call to duty has not,” Shultz said. “Once you’ve worn a uniform you are part of a family whose bonds may be stronger than DNA. You’ll never be a true civilian again. You were trained to lead and to serve. You will never shake that.
“You may wear cowboy boots now but that’s just a different form of combat boots for different battles and scenarios. You can leave active duty, but the duty never leaves you.”
Post 50 Commander Ronnie Webb, who served in the U.S. Army, recalled the American Legion’s beginnings in Paris, France in 1919 and commented that Cleburne’s, one of the earliest posts, established that same year. Timber from Texarkana and stone from the Brazos River supplied the materials for the Cleburne post, he said and Post 50 had the first female commander, who served from 1922-23.
Phil Garcia, chaplain of Cleburne’s VFW Allmon-Burgess Memorial Post 12152, recalled his friend who was killed in action while fighting in Desert Storm.
It’s understandable, perhaps, that people get so busy that they forget, Garcia said, but all the same urged all to take a moment to remember the purpose of Memorial Day.
“For us who remember and us who were there today really is important,” Garcia said.
Cleburne High School sophomore Takara Bailey sang “The Star Spangled Banner” to open the ceremony while CHS senior Kenyon Pio closed it with “Taps.”
Cleburne acting Fire Chief Scott Lail was tapped to lead the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
“There’s no way I could lead you men and women present today in anything,” Lail said. “So instead I would ask that you join me in reciting the pledge.”