While many were focused on leisure activities, more than 100 people gathered at J.F. Gregory Park Monday to commemorate Memorial Day.
“Sadly, Memorial Day for many is an excuse for a three-day weekend,” Steve George of VFW Post 7331 told the crowd. “But it goes beyond a day at the beach or firing up the barbeque grill. The world today is a fragile place, and in the words of Ronald Reagan, freedom is just a generation away from extinction.”
Mayor Harold Fowler welcomed the crowd, noting the words of Abraham Lincoln in regards to the more than 1 million Americans who have been killed in battle who gave their “last full measure of devotion.”
Jana Smolinski of American Legion Post 27 told the crowd that those who mark Memorial Day “remember the true purpose” of the holiday and honor those who died “in conflicts that gave birth to and sustain our nation.”
Smolinski added every life lost in battle means something to someone.
“Some volunteered and some were volun-told,” she said. “It is very special families that produced these real American heroes. They are the very fabric of our society.”
The keynote speaker was Lt. Col. Christopher McCreery from Fort Stewart.
“Memorial Day is often associated with the beginning of summer and has lost its significance to a segment of the population,” he said. “But many of us witnessed first-hand the sacrifice we honor today.”
McCreery then shared the story of Lt. Col. Gary Derby of Montana who was killed by a suicide car bomber in Mosul in February 2009. McCreery was stationed there at the same time, the second of his two Iraqi deployments, and knew Derby.
“He was a soldier’s soldier,” McCreery recounted. “He led his troops from the front and while he could be gruff, he had a passion for his job and his men.”
McCreery said Derby and his security detail, consisting of a sergeant and two privates, were intentionally targeted.
“I remember the frantic radio chatter immediately following the attack and I remember coordinating the recovery mission the next day,” he said. “I had a brief encounter with him the previous day and recall thinking afterward how fleeing life is.
“He left behind a wife and three young children and I recall thinking about the struggles that would lie ahead for them,” McCreery continued. “He and so many others volunteered to be put in harm’s way for the greater good. The debt we owe them cannot be reimbursed.”
Pastor Steve Lane of New Beginnings Church gave the invocation and benediction for the ceremony, while honor guards from Fort Stewart presented the colors and a 21-gun salute. Sgt. Tim Saia of the Richmond Hill Police Department and Russell Austin closed the ceremony by playing “Echo Taps” on trumpets.