By Linda Ash - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Nearly 400 American flags waving in a warm breeze welcomed those attending the annual Winchester-Frederick County Veterans Council Memorial Day Service on Monday morning at Shenandoah Memorial Park.
The flags, which were once draped over the caskets of veterans buried in the cemetery, line the winding park road and were noted early on in the keynote speech given by retired U.S. Navy Capt. George Glavis.
"The flags flying here are truly impressive," Glavis told veterans and their families attending the service indoors this year in the air-conditioned Omps Funeral Home South Chapel. The service, usually held in the cemetery's Veterans Garden, was moved inside due to the heat.
"As we survey these 400 grave markers, it's difficult to depict the types of military challenges they faced. We know there were many hours of monotonous boredom interrupted by sheer terror for some, and far worse for others," Glavis said.
He offered tributes and stories of wars past, including Vietnam. "On this Memorial Day, we need to remember those brave prisoners of war, those missing in action and other brave men who died in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and other places where we were when Washington said we weren't."
He touched on conflicts and incidents in the Middle East, specifically one in 1967 when the U.S.S. Liberty was attacked in the Mediterranean by Israeli aircraft and surface forces "intent on sinking that ship in international waters so there would be no witnesses when Israel attacked Syria the next day."
Glavis noted that the U.S. 6th Fleet commander properly launched U.S. aircraft when the Liberty radioed for help, but said Washington ordered them to recall the aircraft. He urged the audience to "remember those 200 men killed or wounded on Liberty that day."
More American lives, he said, have been lost in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Today's fight is different from yesterday's in that military objectives are shifting so much," he said. "We now hear the Afghanistan pullout will be 2014, but we also heard last month that America will provide economic and military aid for another decade after 2014.
"As conflict continues in the Middle East, we need to ask if we have progressed from the war to end all wars to wars without end. Our children deserve an honest answer to that question. As they graduate from school, their prospect for good jobs at home are diminishing, leaving them the choice of low wages or the military."
Glavis said he felt that America has the strength, courage and resolve to turn that around.
"It is my fervent hope that we will re-examine our foreign policy and reduce our foreign involvement, and that will allow us to rebuild our economic strength here at home," he said. "Hopefully we can reduce the number of dedicated military that are sent in harms way by people in Washington who have never served in battle."
Other speakers during the ceremony included Glavis' wife Linda, who is a supervisor on the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Richard Shickle, chairman of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, and Winchester Mayor Elizabeth Minor.
"Memorial Day is a day for remembering those who gave their lives while serving their country," Minor said. "On this day we honor their sacrifice, but let us remember why we are here and free to celebrate today. We have our freedom of religion, we can chase our dreams, we can watch our children and grandchildren grow, we can speak our minds and we can do things just as simple as going down and taking a walk if we chose. Americans are free because our fellow countrymen have had the courage to fight for us...Today, let us pay tribute to the fallen and the families that they have left behind by honoring them with our sincere gratitude and by never, never forgetting the gifts they have given to us."
At one point during the service, Master of Ceremony Mike Foreman read the names of more than 200 Winchester and Frederick County veterans who died from May 2011 to April 2012. A volley of salute to veterans was conducted, and Taps was played.
Some of those veterans attending the service shared their thoughts about Memorial Day during a lunch at VFW Post 2123 in Kernstown after the service.
Charles Hunter of Winchester served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, Germany and stateside before retiring as a first sergeant. When asked if he was thinking of any one person on this Memorial Day, he recalled a high school classmate from his hometown of Ocean Springs, Miss.
"He dreamed of becoming a combat medic in the Navy," Hunter said, becoming emotional while relaying his friend's story. "He probably dreamed of coming home wearing a Navy cross. Actually, his mother got a Purple Heart."
Navy veteran Chance Bazzano, who is commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Stonewall Jackson #9, in Winchester, commended Glavis on his speech earlier that morning.
"My hat's off to him. A phenomenal job on what he said, especially about the U.S.S. Liberty," Bazzano said. "Very courageous of him and his words make it easier for me to deal with my son being over there. I'm thankful for his words."
Bazzano's wife Zeta, who is commander of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary, noted their son Joseph is in Afghanistan.
She said that she honors her father on Memorial Day. "Every year that I come here I think of him first and send him my prayers."
Vietnam veteran John Smith, who served in the Army, said he has a lot of people to remember, but "it's not just Memorial Day for me. It's every day. A lot of people we lost over there. A lot of my brothers that I've lost since because of that. I could never forget that."
Herb Taylor of Frederick County is an Army veteran who is a member of the Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 313 in Winchester.
"I think about a lot of people I know that didn't come back from there," he said.
Buck Thompson served in the Army in Korea in 1951-52. "I think about all of the Korean war veterans and all the veterans who have lost their lives during war time. In my lifetime I've seen a lot of war."