Despite Cold Rain, Past And Present Veterans Honored In Weekend Ceremony
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
A moment of remembrance was all the more poignant in the cold, pouring rain that shrouded Saturday's Wreaths Across America ceremony here.
Despite the undesirable conditions, a small crowd appeared at the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery to remember those who served, honor those still serving and accept the charge to teach a younger generation to do the same.
Lizzie Watts, superintendent of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, issued that charge to an audience gathered beneath two large tents that had been set up at the foot of the hill.
Those laying the wreaths walked through an honor guard formed by Greeneville and Greene County High School Junior ROTC cadets.
Representatives of each branch of the U.S. armed forces, as well as a representative of Prisoners of War (POWs) and those Missing in Action (MIAs), passed through the honor guard to lay seven wreaths:
* Ret. Col. Galen Kirchmeier laid a wreath for the Air Force;
* Chief Warrant Officer Guy Davis laid a wreath for the Army;
* Aviation Mechanic Richard Howard, Petty Officer 3rd Class, laid a wreath for the Coast Guard;
* Dr. Douglas Essinger, a Vietnam veteran and Commandant of the Elbert Kinser Detachment, Marine Corps League, laid a wreath for the Marine Corps;
* U.S. Air Force Major David Wimms laid a wreath on behalf of the U.S. Merchant Marine;
* Dr. Calvin Garland, a World War II veteran and an Able-Bodied Seaman 1st Class, laid a wreath for the Navy; and,
* Todd McNaulty, U.S. Marine Corps, an Iraq war veteran and Vice Commandant of the Elbert Kinser Detachment, laid a wreath for the POWs/MIAs.
"At over 300 national cemeteries across our great nation today, people will take time to remember, to honor and to teach about our veterans that have come before us and those who are serving today in the longest-running war in United States history," Watts said.
In thinking of those still in service, Watts recalled the words of President Andrew Johnson when he urged a war of words, not of swords.
"On his grave, up on the hill, he says, 'My faith in the people never wavered.' I say all of us and our faith in the veterans has never and will never waver," Watts said.
As Watts spoke, she said that thousands of others across the nation were gathering in similar ceremonies at national cemeteries, a fact that clearly touched keynote speaker and retired veteran Stephanie Bowers.
Bowers spoke of her time in Iraq, where several of her friends lost their lives.
She read from her Dec. 25, 2004, diary entry, at which time she was still serving in Iraq.
Her entry told of her fear and the freezing cold of night patrol.
However, it also told of her camaraderie with fellow soldiers and her delight in small things -- flakes of snow, clean socks and the roast beef the Army served on special occasions.
"I am grateful to have the opportunity to once again be a part of something," she said of Saturday's ceremony.
Grady Barefield, commander of American Legion Post 64, recognized the numerous veterans organizations that helped to organize the event, expressing his gratitude.
Among the key groups involved Saturday were the Greene County Honor Guard, who offered a three-volley salute, the Marine Corps League, the JROTC, the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"May this program inspire in us a greater love for this nation and a deeper respect for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for us and our great nation," Barefield said.
Cicely Babb led the crowd in singing "America the Beautiful" and "Proud to Be An American."
Wal-Mart, which has become a major corporate sponsor for Wreaths Across America nationwide, also had a local representative present.
General Transportation Manager Brian Bragdon of the Wal-Mart Regional Distribution Center at Midway, said that this year the corporation's foundation provided for the purchase and delivery by Wal-Mart trucks of 80,000 wreaths to national cemeteries across the nation, including the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.