“It is said that Armed Forces Day is for those that are still in uniform, Veteran’s Day is for those who have hung up their uniform, and Memorial Day is for those who never made it out of their uniform,” David Gilleran said during Martinsville’s annual Memorial Day service.
An estimated 100 people gathered at Roselawn Cemetery on Monday for a solemn service honoring the military men and women who lost their lives serving their country. From beneath a flag flown at half mast, standing on a stage erected before stones dedicated to lost service members, several speakers rose to honor the fallen with remembrances, prayers, and ceremonies.
The service opened with the placing of the POW/MIA (prisoner of war/missing in action) flag. A table had been set for the purpose. Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike Stewart walked slowly, solemnly to the table, the flag folded in his white-gloved hands. After draping the flag over a chair placed at the table, he saluted the flag and marched away.
Tom Flora of American Veterans (AMVETS) explained the symbolism of the table.
“They are commonly called POWs or MIAs,” he said. “We call them brothers. They are unable to be with us, so we remember them.
“The table set for one is small,” he said. “It symbolizes the frailty of one prisoner against his oppressors. The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms. The single red rose displayed in a vase reminds us of the undying love and the faith of the families and loved ones our comrades left behind.”
A red ribbon tied to the vase represents “the ribbon worn on the lapels and breasts of thousands who bear witness to the unyielding determination to demand a proper accounting for our missing,” while a slice of lemon on the bread plate “is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.”
Salt on the bread plate, he said, is symbolic of the tears of the families of those missing while an inverted glass symbolized the inability of the lost to share in a toast. The small American flag represented the patriotism of the POW/MIAs “and all Americans who wait for their safe return,” while the chair was empty because, as Flora said simply, they are missing.
“Remember, all of you who served with them, called them comrades. You who depended on their might and aid and relied upon them, do not forsake them. Pray for them. And remember.”
Two members of local veterans’ service organizations who passed away within the last year were recognized.
The first was Cal Burnett, who served in the Martinsville and Henry County Veteran Honor Guard. Fellow Honor Guardsman Leonard Boyce paid tribute to Burnett and presented a plaque to his family, which was accepted by Burnett’s son. He said his father was “truly proud of his service to his country.”
The second honored was Robert King who, after he returned from service in the Korean conflict, worked with the Boy Scouts, the American Legion, and the VFW where he served as post and later as district commander, according to Gilleran, who presented a plaque to King’s family.
“I would like to thank everyone for recognizing my daddy,” said his daughter upon accepting the plaque. With tears in her eyes, she said King passed away just a few months ago. “He loved his country, and he loved the VFW,” she said.
The Rev. Mark Hinchclift delivered the invocation.
“Since the beginning of time, Lord, your creation, there has been conflict … wars broke out and history has pointed to those who were willing to fight and sometimes even willing to die to bring peace to the world. We honor you, Lord, by honoring the men and women who paid that ultimate price of life for the freedoms of this country.”
Boyce then introduced the Honor Guard and issued a plea for new members.
“Most of us, we’re up in age,” he said, and recalled that, just a few years ago, there were enough honor guardsmen to be able to perform rites at three funerals in a single day. “Just this year, there have been times we couldn’t get enough guys together to do one funeral,” he said, and added that was not due to a lack of willingness to participate from current members.
Referencing the iconic “I want you” poster featuring Uncle Sam. “The Martinsville and Henry County Honor Guard wants you. We are asking you. As a matter of fact, I’m going to beg you,” Boyce said, and added that the members of the honor guard “are the most dedicated group of men I have dealt with in my life.”
The guard meets the fourth Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. at Wright’s Funeral Home, he said, and invited anyone interested to join them. “We would love to have you,” he said.
The day’s guest speaker was retired Chief Warrant Officer Curtis R. Millner, Sr.
Millner was born in Axton and attended Henry County schools, S.T. Fulcher said in his introduction. Millner enlisted in the Army at the age of 17 and served in Vietnam, where he was Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of Operation Keystone. He retired in 1983, after 23 years of service and returned home where he taught Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) for Henry County and established JROTC programs at other schools.
Millner opened his remarks by remembering 13 soldiers who died nearly a year ago during the withdrawal from Afghanistan which, he said, was “the last incident that we had involving the death of a number of our soldiers.
“Their mission was noble. It was to evacuate desperate civilians yearning to escape a brutal regime,” Millner said. “The 13 U.S. service members who died during a terrorist bombing in Afghanistan last August will not be the last American heroes to make such a sacrifice, but they represent the best of a generation.
“Not only are these diverse men and women forever in our hearts, but for those who knew them, they are forever young. They came from every background, yet they shared a common goal: to serve America and make life better for others. It was the same ethos that drove our Korean War veterans 70 years ago,” he said.
“From the American Revolution to the global War on Terrorism, more than 1 million American veterans have made the supreme sacrifice. They died so we could continue to cherish the things they love—God, country, and family. That is why we’re gathered here on Memorial Day, to honor the memory of our fallen warriors who have given everything for our country,” Millner said.
“We are also reminded on this day that brave men and women have always stepped forward to take the oath of allegiance in America’s armed forces, willing to die for the sake of freedom,” he said, adding that there are tangible things communities can do to honor the service of fallen heroes.
“First and foremost is to take care of their loved ones,” including helping to ensure their children can afford an education. To that end, he said, the American Legion Legacy Scholarship fund exists to help with such expenses, he said.
Memorial Day, Millner told the crowd, is not about picnics and parades.
“Memorial Day is about gratitude and remembrance … The reason there is a Memorial Day is to remember those who made our life possible. They truly are the guardians of our freedom.”