Tears rolled down U.S. Army Maj. Jeremy Turner’s face as he listened to John Dedon, American Legion Nicholson Post No. 38 commander, offer a tribute Monday to those who made the supreme sacrifice in all wars during the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Baton Rouge National Cemetery.
“I’m a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and a lot of my friends have been killed,” a somber Turner said.
“It’s just been a long day,” Turner said as he tried to hold back his tears.
Turner, who is stationed at Fort Polk, was visiting family in Baton Rouge for the Memorial Day weekend.
In ceremonies across the area Monday, people such as Turner, came together to honor military personnel who died in the service of their country.
A crowd of several hundred filled the foyer of the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, pausing to honor fallen Americans.
Tara Gerhardt was one of them.
“We lost my brother to Desert Storm,” Gerhardt said. “My parents have come to this (Memorial Day ceremony) pretty much ever since.”
Gerhardt’s father, Thomas Adams, sat with tears in his eyes thinking about his son, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas Adams Jr. who was killed in 1990 when his helicopter crashed during a night training mission.
Eight Marines were lost at sea that day, Adams said.
“I want my kids to understand the importance of this (day),” Gerhardt said.
“Everyone needs to stop and appreciate what our armed forces do because not everyone gets to come home,” she said.
Gerhardt’s son, Colin Roy, 10, seemed to understand the importance of the day’s happenings.
“I loved him because of what he did as a Marine,” Colin said.
Guest speakers at the USS Kidd ceremony included U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville; U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
The keynote speaker, Staff Sgt. Douglas Ducote Sr., of the U.S. Army, stressed the importance of the holiday.
“Memorial Day is a time to pause in our busy, daily lives, that are so full of television programs, telephones, cars, cell phones and computers, to remember those who have died in service to our nation,” Ducote said.
“I learned the meaning of Memorial Day at a very young age,” Ducote said.
“My father served in the military, as well as two great-uncles, an uncle and several cousins,” Ducote continued.
“But it wasn’t until I went into the military myself that the true meaning of this day hit home,” he said.
Then, as he too fought back tears, Ducote read the names of more than 20 of his friends who lost their lives fighting for their country.
“We are the beneficiaries of their bravery and sacrifice, as are all Americans, and we never should take their sacrifice for granted,” Ducote said.
“It is truly because of every single one of them, in our nation’s 230-year history, that we stand her today,” he said.
Fleet Reserve Association member Jerry Pugh rang a bell in remembrance of those who have guarded America “from the sea, under the sea, from the air and on foreign soil.”
For Janet Broussard, of Prairieville, whose son, Lt. Mark St. Romain, is serving his second tour in Iraq, the day means more than holiday sales and barbecues.
“I wouldn’t be in any other place,” Broussard said of her presence at ceremony at the USS Kidd.
Her grandson Beau St. Romain, 2, wore a button of a picture of his father on his shirt.
“My daddy’s at work. He’s a soldier,” Beau said.
As the ceremony progressed at Baton Rouge National Cemetery, Tracy Konnecker, of Carville, and Chris Durham, of Livingston, arrived with their children “to teach them about Memorial Day and what it is all about,” Konnecker said.
“This is a tradition we will continue,” said Konnecker, a member of the Louisiana National Guard.
The cemetery holds more than 6,000 soldiers and is one of 14 national cemeteries designated by Abraham Lincoln in 1865, said Rex Kern, director of Port Hudson and Baton Rouge National Cemeteries.
“This cemetery is steeped in a huge amount of history so this is truly hallowed ground,” Kern said.
Dedon said the post adopted the cemetery about eight years ago and began the annual Memorial Day ceremony.
Andy Watts and his son, Ace Watts of Baton Rouge, glanced at the tiny flags placed at each grave just days before the event.
After attending the Memorial Day ceremony at Port Hudson National Cemetery in Zachary, the two headed to Baton Rouge National Cemetery.
“I wanted to remember everybody that served before us and defended our country in all wars,” Andy Watts said.
Memorial Day ceremonies also were held in Port Allen and Gonzales and at LSU.
Following Dedon’s remarks and a prayer by the post chaplain, the ceremony ended with the placing of a wreath on the memorial to the soldiers of Maine, a gun salute and taps.
Be sure to check out the Memorial Day Wiki