"They went because their nation called upon them to put themselves in harm's way," said Col. Glenn Kennedy, who spoke at the annual Augusta-CSRA Memorial Day observance.
The groups -- along with families and friends -- gathered for the 22nd year at the All Wars Monument at Fourth and Broad streets not only to acknowledge those who have served but to remember those who died in the process.
"They fought because they believe," Kennedy said. "It was not because war is good, but because it is necessary."
U.S. servicemen and servicewomen have fought and died in many places across the globe during both popular and unpopular wars, he said:
"We are here today not to validate their cause, but to acknowledge their sacrifice."
Behind each name etched in granite in our national cemeteries are the wives, parents, sons and daughters who have also paid a price for freedom.
Kennedy reminded everyone that those who died defending their country were of every race, creed and color.
"But in their final moments, they were simply Americans, and were not divided by meaningless differences," he said.
Later in the day, hundreds of people gathered on Riverwalk Augusta to celebrate those sacrifices at the Augusta Concert Band's 20th annual Memorial Day Concert. Wearing a shirt noting his unit in Vietnam, the 84th Engineer Battalion, William L. Hatcher said he had a friend in the band and had turned out to celebrate the holiday.
"The soldier, the sailor, the airman are the ones that guarantee our freedom," Hatcher said as band members tuned up in the amphitheater below. "We are able to sleep at night because strong men and women protect us."
As boats cut wakes across the Savannah River behind them, the band played patriotic tunes, from Stars and Stripes Forever to The Blue & The Gray.
At one break in the music, Col. DJ Reyes, the site commander of the National Security Agency, Georgia, at Fort Gordon and the 706th Military Intelligence Group, told the crowd that Memorial Day meant something unique for him.
"Memorial Day to me means the CSRA," said Reyes, who will relinquish his command June 17 to redeploy to Kabul, Afghanistan. "These four letters mean commitment, service, remembrance and assumption of responsibility."
He urged the audience to remember that Fort Gordon soldiers are an important part of the community -- shoppers in Augusta's stores, coaches on their football fields and people who pay local taxes. But they are also something else, he said.
"When duty calls -- we pack up our bags and deploy to war in another part of the world," Reyes said.
He then asked the audience to pray for those who were not present.
"Those who are fighting the good fight in a faraway land and are keeping the faith," he said.