Diane Snellings Culpepper fought to keep her composure during the 21-gun salute at Monday’s Memorial Day Ceremony at the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home in Augusta.
When the bugler began playing “Taps,” she broke down into sobs.
She has driven from Elberton, Ga., for the past seven years to visit her father, Charles Snelling, who was a resident of the home. And every year, she shared this ceremony with him.
He died last month.
As the Army band played a medley of Armed Forces hymns, Culpepper stood during the U.S. Air Force segment in honor of her father’s service to the branch.
“It was just bittersweet today,” Culpepper said of the ceremony.
More than a day to honor those who are currently serving in the military, Memorial Day is about remembering those who gave their lives in service to their country, said Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn, commanding general of Fort Gordon, who was the event’s guest speaker.
“Ours is a dangerous profession,” he said. “As we proudly and gratefully acknowledge the sacrifices of our military veterans that are still with us, we won’t forget to recognize those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. It is with a sad heart that we remember our fallen heroes.”
After the colors were presented and the “National Anthem” was sung by Julia Faith Price, veterans from all wars were asked to stand for recognition, and area veteran and support organizations were recognized by representatives from each.
Col. Michael Friedman, deputy commander for clinical services at Dwight. D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, explained the differences between the holidays set aside to honor the military. Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day celebrate and honor those currently serving in the military and veterans still alive. He said they serve to thank the living.
“Memorial Day, in contrast, serves to remember and honor those military personnel who died in service to our nation, particularly those who died in battle, or as a result of the wounds sustained in battle,” he said.
Across the river at the Wade Hampton Veterans Park in North Augusta, the American Legion Post 71 held its annual observance, which included a presentation by the North Augusta High School ROTC and the Fort Gordon Navy Choir.
The keynote speaker for the event had traditionally been an active duty military member, said Bob Ramsey, commander of Post 71. This year, however, the group decided on Augusta Chronicle President Dana T. Atkins, who retired as an Air Force lieutenant general shortly before starting at the newspaper Jan. 3.
Atkins asked the crowd of more than 200 to do three things in honor of Memorial Day. He asked the veterans to share their stories with those who had not served. For everyone else, he asked them to help a veteran in need and to say thank-you to a member of the military.
“There’s a price that we pay for our freedoms,” he said.
Atkins told about a good friend, Maj. David L. Brodeur, who was killed April 27, 2011, when eight U.S. service members and an American contractor were gunned down at the Kabul, Afghanistan, airport.
Atkins had known Brodeur for a few years before he asked him to become his executive officer at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. After just a few short months, Brodeur was told he would be deploying to Afghanistan, Atkins said.
Before he left, Brodeur asked Atkins to watch over his wife and two children. Atkins recalled handing his friend’s 4-year-old son his father’s flag.
“It was the hardest assignment in my military career,” Atkins said.
The eyes of participants were not the only thing moist on Monday during the CSRA’s Memorial Day Observances. A quick downpour in the middle of the ceremonies briefly sent observers scrambling under the tents. The sun soon returned, and neither ceremony skipped a beat.
In North Augusta, Ramsey’s voice broke as he named the 11 legionnaires of Post 71 who have passed to “the post everlasting.”
But he looked at the sky as the sun returned.
“At least we are finishing up on a note of praise and thanksgiving,” he said.