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Annual Memorial Day Celebration honors those who paid the ultimate price

By Kristin Fox

A large crowd gathered at the Veterans’ Memorial Park for Monday’s 2023 Memorial Day ceremony, a day of remembrance and hope, hosted by American Legion Post 108. Master of Ceremonies Bob Cook welcomed the crowd which included veterans from all branches of the military and from all wars as well as their family and friends, and others to celebrate this special day set aside to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in service to our country. 

Observed on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day, is a day set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated shortly after the end of the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Today, we remember the over one million United States heroes who had their lives cut short while fighting in wars since the American Revolution.

The annual ceremony began with the opening prayer by Chaplain Eugene “Bud” Haire followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Cook.

The service flags from the different military organizations which are active in Macon County were placed in a place of honor beside the American flag. Service flags posted included American Legion Post 108, the oldest and largest service organization in the country, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7339, Vietnam Veterans of America and Marine Corps League. 

After the posting of the colors, Julia McCrae and Quashana Antoine, sang The National Anthem. Prior to the retiring of the colors, McCrae and Antoine sang God Bless America.

Cook introduced the guest speaker decorated Army Veteran SFC Craig McManus, a North Carolina native. McManus served in the army from 1998-2014 including three years in Afghanistan. He was awarded four bronze stars. Raised in a military family, McManus began his service to our country joining the National Guard while in college and active service shortly after 911. He is currently a financial advisor for Edward Jones. 

“Wars end, wars fade but memories do not; I encourage everyone to adopt this idea,” said McManus. “Don’t remember a war, but remember the men and women, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives that left to support a cause greater than themselves, to help those who couldn’t help themselves, to support those that needed it, to free the oppressed.”

“I share a Bible quote that is relevant for today ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,’” he added. “Look at the cumulative death toll from all the wars the United States has been in, it is over 1.1 million, but I encourage you not to mourn them, that is not what they want. Celebrate them, honor them, celebrate them for the heroes that they are. Mourn the loss, yes, but celebrate the life.”

“They say a person dies twice; once when they take their last breath and their heart stops beating, and the second death is when their name is spoken for the last time,” said McManus. “My challenge to you and the way I view Memorial Day is to speak their names, to keep that part of them alive, not in the context of sadness and sorrow but in a place of joy and celebration. Tell their stories, remember the person, celebrate their life.”

“There is an old quote by Confederate General Albert Pike that says: ‘What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal,’” he added. “Honor them who made the ultimate sacrifice, keep their name alive in celebration of their life and our freedom. Love, appreciate, honor, and celebrate them, they deserve it. We can celebrate and honor them by continuing to be the types of Americans worth dying for.”

Ceremonial wreaths to honor those who gave their lives for our country were presented by American Legion Auxiliary 108 President Jan Stough and VFW Auxiliary 1339 President Shirley Fouts and Daughters of the American Revolution Regent Victoria Baker and Service to Veterans Chairman Dee Shendel. 

Sherry Walker read the traditional reading of “In Flanders Field,” a war poem written in 1915 during World War I by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in honor of his friend who was killed during the war.

The celebration concluded with the retirement of the colors followed by the rifle volley and Taps by the Honor Guard of The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. At noon, the American Flag and miliary service flags were raised to full mast. Following the celebration, refreshments were served at American Legion Post 108.

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