Memorial Day is for remembering all of those who died while in the service of the United States of America. They truly gave the last full measure.
Retired U.S. Marine 1st Sgt. David B. Pelley was the guest speaker Monday during the annual Memorial Day Remembrance Service held on the Bradley County Courthouse Plaza. About 250 people lined Ocoee Street in downtown Cleveland to pay tribute.
“Today should be a day of solemn reflection,” Pelley said.
The Charleston native who has traveled to foreign lands to put himself in harm’s way, reminded those in the crowd that they were free to gather on the Plaza only because of others who sacrificed to the fullest.
He remembered four people during his speech: Charlotte Heim, Lance Cpl. Christian Porter, Lance Cpl. Joshua L Torrence and Capt. Brent Morel.
Pelley said Heim, of Baltimore, would awaken with the acknowledgement that it was her 95th birthday. She would put on her best outfit and begin the journey to Baltimore National Cemetery to pay respects to her late husband, Pfc. Carroll “Curly” Druery, reflecting on a life dedicated to duty, reflecting on what could have been, reflecting on bravery and the life he gave at Iwo Jima, during World War II.
“I am sure ‘Mrs. H,’ as she is affectionately called by those who know her, will reflect on the trials associated with raising a 3-year-old daughter on her own. Her husband sacrificed his life for this country. I am honored to be wearing his ring today,” Pelley said.
Later in the day, Pelley said he would call a dear friend in Springfield, Ill., a Veteran who lost partial use of both his feet in a plane crash during the Vietnam War — and then lost his son in Operation Desert Storm.
“Young Lance Cpl. Christian Porter was only 20 on the day he lost his life while serving our country,” Pelley continued. “I was near when Christian made that ultimate sacrifice and I have never forgotten — nor should I — for his sacrifice is a harsh reminder that freedom comes with a heavy price for our sons and daughters.”
The retired Marine said he would also reflect on Torrence, a young man who went to the high school where Pelley teaches in Lexington, S.C. Torrence, 21, was killed by an improvised explosive device while serving a tour of duty in Iraq.
“Josh leaves behind parents and siblings who grieve his loss today like it was the day they received the news. Adults and children raised money and now, near our school, etched in marble, a likeness of Lance Cpl. Torrence reminds others that ‘Freedom is not free.’"
Pelley said he would also reflect on Morel, of Martin, a young man of impeccable character and integrity, with fire-red hair and a desire to lead — a young man who was awarded a degree from Middle Tennessee State University.
“A young man, who with myself and others, fired our rifles, held our white-gloved hands in salute in honor of those who were being interred in the National Cemetery in Memphis. A young man who upon completion of his degree, eagerly put on an officer’s uniform and became a leader of men,” he said. “And when called to duty, did not hesitate to go, serving his country with honor before being killed in Iraq. It is humbling to know that this volunteer who graciously gave of his time to help honor others is now buried among those he so richly honored.”
Pelley said that on the same day as the gathering at the Bradley County Courthouse, at Flanders Field in Belgium, and at 23 other permanent war cemeteries around the world, tourists and citizens alike would also gather.
“Here in our United States of America at Arlington National Cemetery and other places across this nation in places with names we can't pronounce, some with a population in the mere hundreds, people will congregate. People who have perhaps never seen each other, people of all economic backgrounds, people with nothing in common other than a son or daughter, husband or wife, friend, who has given the ultimate sacrifice,” Pelley said.
“Today they will do as we are doing, for as I speak, I know many of you are replacing the names I say with names of your own, remembering them, their stories — remembering their bravery and our loss.
“This is a day for those types of feelings, a day to replace celebration with remembrance, joy with reflection. This is a day for honoring. This is a day for embracing the loss and recognizing the great cost that freedom sometimes brings.
“Today in our awakening, we have received our orders. Our course has been set by the very act of gathering here.
“We must spread the word on this day of reflection, we must validate to our friends, and neighbors that we have a mission, a mission to never let the legacy of our departed service members die.
“A mission to hold dear to our hearts their selfless acts of courage in the face of adversity, a mission to bring back the honor and sanctity of this day, a day when we don't have to believe in war to honor our family, friends and neighbors who died in service to their country.
“And just as the Olympic torch is passed from runner to runner along the route, just as the lead goose in a flight of those magnificent fowl falls back and lets the younger, stronger geese take the lead, so should we as our comrades grow older and pass from this life, step in and take the lead to remember those who have so valiantly sacrificed their all,” Pelley said.