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The words of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, as well as “Saving Private Ryan” character Capt. John Miller were quoted Monday during a commemoration of America’s fallen military in the City of Williamsburg.
Hosted at Williamsburg Memorial Park each Memorial Day for more than 10 years, the ceremony drew hundreds of locals and visitors who came to honor the fallen, pay their respects and hear patriotic music performed by their neighbors.
“This is our tradition,” said Bonnie Wilson, whose husband, son and brother all served in the Armed Forces. “It’s just a special, special way to celebrate this day.”
Wilson, her family and several hundred spectators heard from Maj. General Ross E. Ridge, a commanding general for the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, who spoke about the importance of remembering those who died in service and celebrating their accomplishments through the words of American leaders.
“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers,” he said, quoting Kennedy.
Ridge urged ceremony attendees to celebrate the military men and women’s courage and service on the last Monday in May, a time that marks the beginning of a new season.
“This day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, and what could be a more fitting tribute to the men and women who died in service to their country than a day that gives birth to a season of warmth and life?” Ridge said.
He said Memorial Day is not a day for solemn mourning, but a day dedicated to “reverent celebration and remembrance.”
He quoted the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan,” in which Capt. John Miller leans over to Private James Ryan in his last breaths and says, “Earn this.”
“Each one of us should ask ourselves, ‘What have we done to earn this gift of freedom?’” Ridge said. “In the end, to remember is not enough. It’s what you do with this gift that is important.”
Commanders from local veterans’ organizations laid down the veterans memorial wreath, and James City County Police Chief Bradley Rinehimer and Williamsburg Fire Chief Pat Dent laid the police and fire memorial wreath.
Members of the local police departments and fire departments were part of the advance guard, which bore the colors and shot a three-volley salute.
The ceremony came to an end with a performance of "God Bless the USA," sang by Retired U.S. Army veteran Ray Gresham.
Correction 5/26/15: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated who laid the police and fire memorial wreath. Williamsburg Fire Chief Pat Dent carried the memorial wreath with Jame City County Police Chief Bradley Rinehimer.