PORTSMOUTH — Many veterans who have been killed or died during wartime have since been honored by having streets, buildings, and schools named after them, said the keynote speaker at …
PORTSMOUTH — Many veterans who have been killed or died during wartime have since been honored by having streets, buildings, and schools named after them, said the keynote speaker at Monday morning’s Memorial Day ceremony outside Town Hall.
“But, nothing can ever replace the hole left behind by a fallen service member. Honoring them once a year is not enough,” SFC William “Bill” McCollum, U.S. Army (Ret.) told a small gathering of people who came out to Legion Park. “That empty seat you see at the dinner table, at special holidays, weddings and so much more, is a reminder that they are gone — gone but not forgotten.”
McCollum, commander of American Legion Post 18, reminded everyone that Memorial Day is specifically for deceased “who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
“Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, arose from the ashes of the Civil War, where 620,000 Americans lost their lives or were wounded,” he said. “These men and women we honor today came from all walks of life and shared several fundamental qualities: courage, pride, determination and dedication to our flag.
“They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times. They rose to the call because they wanted to protect a nation which had given them so much. Many of these brave men and women were volunteers, while others were drafted, yet they too made the call.”
Last week, he said, members of VFW Post 5390 and American Legion Post 18 flagged many local graves of veterans in Portsmouth. Memorial Day came to be in similar fashion, when grieving families of both Northern and Southern states started decorating the graves of their lost soldiers with flowers and wreaths, leading to the first formal Memorial Day observance in Waterloo, N.Y., on May 5, 1866, he said. Memorial Day was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 1877.
“This Memorial Day, we come before our creator to remember those who bravely served our great country, and as a result of their service, they were called home and lost their lives so we could be free,” said Post 18 member Francis “Cisco” Gutierrez, who served as master of ceremonies.
“As long as we remember the lost veterans that we have, they will never truly die. They will always be in our hearts, in our minds, in our deeds, and make us do things that would make them proud of us,” he said.
The ceremony also honored American prisoners of war who have not yet made it back safely to their homes.
Near the end of the ceremony, Project Blue Star Coordinator Carolyn Evans-Carberry and Linda Zagaglia-Gutierrez placed a memorial wreath next to the Honor Roll in front of Town Hall. The yellow flowers planted at the Honor Roll represent Gold Star families with loved ones who died or were killed during wartime, Evans-Carberry said, while the purple flowers represent the town’s Purple Heart recipients.
Gutierrez thanked VFW Post 5390, American Legion Post 18, the Portsmouth Garden Club, Evans-Carberry for picking up the wreath, and the Portsmouth Police Department for providing a detail officer for traffic safety around the park.
“Please enjoy this day,” he said. “Cherish it, remember it, and live it to the most. Do what you want to do because you’re free to do it. That price has been paid.”