On Monday, Memorial Day was recognized throughout Fayette County with the Fayette County Honor Guard traveling to and taking part in three different local services. Those services were held at Washington Cemetery, St. Colman Catholic Cemetery, and Highlawn Cemetery.
First in the day’s schedule was Washington Cemetery at 10 a.m. The Washington High School (WHS) band, directed by Matt Stanley, played music to begin the event.
David Frederick, chaplain of Post 25 as well as a past commander, opened the service with introductions and a prayer. The WHS Band then played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Council Member James (Jim) Blair was the speaker for the event.
Within Blair’s speech, he thanked and recognized several groups and individuals including fellow veterans, the WHS band, city dignitaries, community members, various veterans organizations, along with Nancy Stillings and Paul LaRue for their research in cemetery history. Also recognized and thanked were the Washington Cemetery workers “who have kept this cemetery in such good condition in spite of all of the rain we have been having.”
Blair shared a copy of his speech with the Record-Herald which is included at the end of this article.
The wreath was presented by Fayette County Veterans Service Commissioners Edward (Eddie) Fisher and Patricia DeWees.
To conclude the service, the WHS band played a medley of the military songs followed by full military honors by the Honor Guard and the playing of both taps and “Amazing Grace” by two buglers.
The service held at St. Colman Catholic Cemetery began at 11 a.m. The service was opened by Frederick. Fisher, a local veteran and member of the Fayette County Honor Guard, read a prayer. “God Bless America” was then sang by veteran and St. Coleman choir member Beth DelTedesco.
Fisher and DeWees presented the wreath. Full military honors was given by the Honor Guard including the 21 Gun Salute and the playing of taps.
Following the service was mass for those who wished to stay and take part.
The Honor Guard ended their day with the service at Highlawn Cemetery, which started at 1 p.m.
The following excerpt was taken from Blair’s speech, which he shared a copy of with the Record-Herald:
“Things have certainly changed for us all over the past year. COVID has made and is still making an impact on all of our lives. Even though last years event was cancelled, to the faithful, this day was kept in our hearts and minds wherever we may have been. We have come together as a community to honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And to their sometimes forgotten families—we say thank you. Its difficult to imagine life without our loved ones. But nevertheless, the departed would not have us quit living but would encourage us to continue our lives, holding onto those principles they so bravely fought for.
“As I walked our beautifully manicured cemetery this week and saw the numerous American flags fluttering over the final resting place of our veterans, my mind went back to memorial days of the past. As a young boy, I remember listening for the 1st notes of the high school band leading the parade. That was the signal for my brother and I to run down to Washington Avenue to view the marching soldiers, military themed floats and marching band playing patriotic songs. And then at the cemetery, the 21 Gun Salute sent chills down my spine, even if I didn’t fully understand what was being celebrated.
“Lets stop briefly and talk about the rich history surrounding our Washington Cemetery. If you walk the full 3.5 miles of road within the cemetery, you will notice the cemetery is divided into sections. In section 2 is a stone with the name Isaac H. Carman who received the congressional medal of honor for his service during the civil war. In section 8 lies the body of John Christy, who fought in the American Revolution. Mixed in with several union army veterans in section 7 lies the bodies of 2 confederate soldiers. Foes no longer, these men share a common destiny—death. The flags—too many to count—mark the graves of men and women of every race, religion and ethnicity, and there are in our cemetery approximately 50 African American soldiers, of which 36 are buried in section 13.
“The year was 1966, I was a senior at Washington High School and like many of my classmates and some of you graduates present, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my future. I was aware the Vietnam war was raging but felt isolated from it. Back in the day the options for young men were simple. Get drafted, enlist, or get a deferment. I chose the enlistment option. Along with my now deceased cousin (Robert Blair), we joined the air force in 1967. The promise if we enlisted together we would stay together lasted exactly one week. You who are military veterans know what I am talking about when I say empty promises.
“As I look around at our crowd today, I see many of my friends who have served in my generation’s war (Vietnam). Vietnam was characterized by many observers at that time, as a useless, endless war with no purpose, which would eventually cost the lives of 54,000 men and women. You who served our country in Vietnam did not come home to a positive welcome. No bands playing or parades or speeches thanking you for your service was given by the politicians who sent you there in the first place.
“Some of you still carry even to this very moment the physical and emotional scars of the result of your service to our country. Although today is not veterans day, I would still like to recognize your sacrifice and service to our country. To you, I say thank you. I hope and pray you are able to come to peace and healing within yourself.
“Then there are some from our county who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam war. Join me for a moment of silence as I read their names: Joe E Bell, Earl L Cook, Charles M Dray, Terry L Jenkins, Charles E McMillion, John R Mickle, Neil Morris, Johnny Ratliff, James H Wulk Jr., Robert C Wing, and Larry J Pepper. Welcome home, from a grateful community.
“Today, we come to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Each flag marking a grave represents one of your neighbors who gave up a job and, in many times, a family to answer the call of their country. Although not all died in combat, they nevertheless had an important part to play in the defense of our country.
“History records there have been over 1.3 million American war deaths since our country’s inception, and innumerable injuries in conflicts both large and small. Some of the lesser known conflicts like the Bay of Pigs, Bosnia, War of 1812, the various Indian conflicts, along with even the Barbary Pirates Conflicts, have tended to be overlooked, while more historical and larger wars like the Civil War, WWI and WWII, Korean Conflict, and Vietnam are given more press. More recently, Iraq and Afghanistan have been the destination of our military forces. And if history is a predictor of our future in America, we are unfortunately likely to read the names of others who will give the ultimate sacrifice.
“Our most costly war by far has been fought on American soil—the Civil War. Often times between even brothers. This conflict resulted in 665,000 American deaths, followed by WWII, then WWI, Vietnam, Korea, and then the American Revolution.
“On the great seal of the united states are carved these words ‘E PLURIBUS OOONUM’ –‘out of many one.’ The united states didn’t become the great nation it is because of the people you find in history books. It became the great nation it is because of men and women like you. It became the great nation it is because of the principles that it was built upon. It became the great nation it is because of the values that were passed down from generation to generation. It became the great nation it is because we valued life and the freedom to believe or not believe. And it became the great nation it is because of we the many.”
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.