Memorial Day ceremony honors fallen soldiers

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

by Alexander P. Crespo
VCU Capital News Service

About 1,000 people attended a Memorial Day ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial, honoring members of the military who gave their lives in service to the United States.

The ceremony Monday morning began in the E. Bruce Heilman Amphitheatre with music, followed by remarks from Clay Mountcastle, director of the Virginia War Memorial.

“Memorial Day, at its core, is about more than appreciation,” Mountcastle said. “It’s the most valuable reminder that the freedoms we enjoy and sometimes take for granted in this country come at a tremendous price.”

The theme of solemn reverence for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation was prevalent throughout the ceremony. The keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, spoke fondly of the War Memorial’s significance in his own life by recalling a childhood trip to the site with his grandfather.

“My grandfather pointed up on the east wall of the memorial to a name and began to tell us the story of his brother,” Williams said. His grandfather’s brother had enlisted in the Air Corps and eventually flew a B-26 Marauder over Europe for nearly two dozen missions before being shot down and killed over Frankfurt, Germany, on March 20, 1944.

Hearing this story, Williams said, gave him a new appreciation for both the memorial and the veterans who served and died before him.

“Many times I catch myself thinking how I wish I could take a page out of history, go back and talk to those veterans, tell them how much I appreciate what they did and how much that I love them,” Williams said.

Many veterans both old and young from all branches of service attended the event. One of them was Sammy Rutledge of Ashland, Virginia.

Rutledge is among the dwindling number of World War II veterans still alive. He said he was drafted at age 18 during the final years of the conflict, fought on the European front and was in Berlin when Nazi Germany surrendered.

On Monday, the 90-year-old veteran was scanning the thousands of names inscribed in the Shrine of Memory, looking for the entry for his older brother, James. He said James was killed during the Allied invasion of France in 1944.

Visiting the memorial “brings back a lot of old memories,” Rutledge said. Two other brothers died the year after the war ended from injuries they had sustained while fighting. Their names are not inscribed in the memorial’s shrine.

After all these years, why does Rutledge still attend Memorial Day commemorations?

“I like to see the people and those of us veterans still left,” he said.

The event featured music from St. Andrew’s Legion Pipes and Drums and the Benedictine Cadet Pipes and Drums. Then retired Col. Terence W. Singleton led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. “Thirty-one powerful words,” Singleton said.

Another speaker was Al Hillman, commander of the 11th District of the American Legion. “No one willingly gave their life, but they willingly went into danger,” he said.

This year’s Memorial Day ceremony coincided with several military milestones, including the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I and 75th anniversary of America’s entry into World War II.

The commemoration concluded as 25 wreaths were placed at the foot of the Statue of Memory inside the shrine. That was followed by a 21-gun salute, taps and closing remarks by Mountcastle.

“Find a name,” he told the attendees. “Pick it out, take it home. Think about that name for the rest of the day, for the rest of the month and for the rest of the year.”

CNS reporter Sean Boyce contributed to this report.