The newly built Veteran’s Memorial site, dedicated Nov. 11, held its first Memorial Day program Monday, with military veterans, families of those who served or who are currently serving in the military, and members from the community in attendance.
The event, sponsored by the Johnson City/Washington County Veterans Memorial Committee, started at 1 p.m. and cars lined the surrounding streets near the site, located on the corner of West Market Street and Veterans Way.
During the ceremony, a special ceremony was given by Rolling Thunder, Tenn. Chapter 4, who showed up to support veterans and also to help dedicate a POW/MIA chair at the site.
Members of the organization, many decked out in their leather vests with patches, stood silently among the crowd watching the ceremony unfold.
“This is something that Rolling Thunder, as a group on Memorial Day, we go ... to honor our brothers and sisters who gave their life so we can carry on,” said Chuck Richardson, Vietnam Veteran and Rolling Thunder Chapter 4 member. “Today is a special occasion because we’re going to be putting up a POW/MIA chair.”
The chair, dedicated to the site by Rolling Thunder, represents the service members who are prisoners of war or are still missing in action.
Debbie Beeson, also a Rolling Thunder chapter member, said the organization is hoping to get the word out that Sgt. Bowe R. Bergdahl, captured on July 3, 2009, in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, is still a missing POW/MIA.
“That’s our biggest cause,” Richardson said. “We want to get it out to the public and educate the public on this issue.”
While many think of this holiday as a time to relax, eat and have family time, to veterans, this day means so much more.
“Yeah, you can go out and you can grill ... but the biggest thing a lot of people forget is what this day really means and what it’s all about, and the price that was paid so they could go out and grill hamburgers and hot dogs,” Richardson said. “(The Memorial Day program) is just a way to say ‘Thank You’ to those guys that laid it all on the line, so that we could do what we’re doing today.”
The community, along with the Rolling Thunder members, made their presence known at Monday’s ceremony.
“It’s been a great turnout,” said Colonel Retired Gary McAllister, vice chairman of the Veterans Memorial Committee. “It’s just amazing to see the support we have from the city.”
While the site is still fairly new, McAllister said veterans and those from the community are utilizing the area as a way to remember loved ones who served.
“There’s 1,668 people on this wall and there’s 1,668 stories, and every time I come out here somebody has a new story,” he said. “I come here at night sometimes ... and there are people here.”
McAllister served in the U.S. Army for just over 28 years, with his last assignment at the Pentagon working for the Army Surgeon General. He said the site and this program show the support from the community for those who have served.
“Freedom is not free. All gave some, but some gave all,” he said. “I’m proud to be an American, proud to be a soldier, proud to be in the military.”
A memorial wreath was also placed at the site to honor those who have served in the armed forces and musical performances were provided by Robert Powell and the Central Baptist Men’s Chorus.