A woman mourns the loss of a loved one buried in the Mountain Home National Cemetery on Memorial Day. (Kayla Carter/Johnson City Press)
Two Memorial Day services provided opportunities for many Johnson City residents to remember loved ones who died while dedicating their lives to the nation’s armed forces.
The James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Mountain Home National Cemetery program Monday morning featured keynote speaker Bill Hampton with Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 4.
The program featured a 3-Volley Salute, wreath-laying ceremony and patriotic singing, which are all appropriate ways of commemorating sacrifices American soldiers have made, said National Cemetery Director Donnie Sisk.
“Memorial Day is an especially important commemoration on our nation’s calendar,” Sisk said to the crowd gathered under and around the tent. “This is a day for both mourning and meaning, for remembering and respect.”
Sisk said all Americans should unite on Memorial Day through the recognition that soldiers support our freedom through many sacrifices.
“The people we honor today define both our history as well as our future,” Sisk said. “Through their service they define our destiny and wrote chapters of our history all too often in the ink of blood, sweat and tears. They did not fail us and we must not fail them. So, today we commemorate their service and sacrifice.”
While taking a stroll through the Mountain Home cemetery, Sherry Freeman and her husband Jerry visited a family friend’s grave.
“I think we need to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Freeman said. “That’s not easy for the families left behind. No matter how long it’s been, I’m sure those wounds are still fresh.”
Chase Westfall said his family and friends decided to attend the ceremony because of the site’s history and its support of veterans year-round.
Having avoided a loss while family members served the country, Westfall said it’s important for the lost lives of the unknown soldiers to be recognized, too.
“We are here in honor of the unknown soldiers as much as anything,” Westfall said. “Everything that you have and everything you enjoy as a citizen in the country ... it’s because of the fact that there are many men and women who are willing to sacrifice everything. That’s worth remembering, celebrating and honoring.”
Jim Nelms, a charter member of Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 4, said he comes to the Mountain Home event every year to hear taps being played in honor of all fallen soldiers.
“It’s always an emotional part of the service,” Nelms said.
Nelms said he always takes time after the event to visit with his oldest brother or his cousin, who he joined the Air Force with, and a nephew who are all buried in the cemetery.
Up the street, a second service held at the Veterans Memorial Park at 6 p.m. took time to commemorate 352 Johnson City soldiers for their lives lost serving in the armed forces.
The ceremony included a speech from Rep. Phil Roe, prayers, patriotic singing from the Darden family and the sharing of three Johnson City veterans’ stories.
Science Hill High School JROTC cadet Alicia Benett told the audience the story of a 13-year-old soldier named Homer Lefterage Pease from Johnson City, who wanted to serve his country so much he lied about his age in order to join.
“His name has been popping up everywhere and I’ve grown attached to him,” Benett said. “I’ve found that he was definitely a dedicated young man to the military and I hope that when I do serve, I can have that same motivation.”
A roll call and missing man table ceremony was also performed by members of Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 4 recognizing men and women who were held as prisoners of war.
Johnson City/Washington County Veterans Memorial Committee Chairwoman Brenda Barnette said the second annual Veterans Memorial Park program was held to continue fulfilling a promise made to the loved ones of all fallen Johnson City veterans.
“Our hope and promise from the beginning of wanting to build this memorial was to offer a special place, a hallowed place, for families to come and reflect upon the service and sacrifice of their loved ones,” Barnette said.
Barnette said she hopes people left the memorial feeling uplifted through the honoring of their loved ones.
She said, “I think the first thing people take home with them is their heart bursting with pride.”