Memorial Day an inspiring hometown event
by Tom Rowland, Cleveland Mayor
May 30, 2013 | 441 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you missed Memorial Day 2013 in Cleveland this year, you missed a true experience of what this American city is all about.

A hometown hero was guest speaker. A high school band director, drummers and bugler took their holiday to assist the “Last Roll Call” and to play “Taps.” A trio of Girl Scout members sat on stage and read the names of fallen heroes from wars past, reading names inscribed on the veterans’ plaques at the Bradley County Courthouse. A handsome team of Navy Sea Cadets proudly posted colors. Boy Scout troops were in attendance to pay respect and honor. Earlier they had placed United States flags on the gravesites of veterans buried in this community. It was encouraging to see so many young people involved in this year’s service.

I often sit through Memorial and Veterans Day services and look in the crowd to see the faces of people taking part and attending. I often worry about who will follow in our footsteps, keeping up the traditions of honoring our military, past and present.

This Memorial Day 2013 was encouraging. It was awe-inspiring. It was a perfect day, with beautiful blue skies, sunny, occasional bursts of brisk winds and United States flags flying, surrounding the Courthouse Plaza. Jim Burton and his Cleveland High Band students are always faithful to provide our drum rolls and bugler for the event each year.

Steve Stewart and Mary Baier worked together to plan this year’s program. Though the two can’t take credit for the beautiful weather, they can take credit for the outstanding program, its speaker and the lineup of participants for this year’s service.

We could not have had a better speaker than retired U.S. Marine 1st Sgt. David Pelley. He spoke from the heart and from firsthand experience — and his love for his country, his fellow man and our fallen heroes was apparent.

Sometime ago his father, Max Pelley, mentioned his son as a possible speaker for a service in the future. We owe Max a debt of gratitude for alerting us to his availability. Max and the entire Pelley family have a reason to be proud.

First Sgt. Pelley talked about his hometown experience in Cleveland. He remembered, as a youngster, attending our Veterans and Memorial Day celebrations. He remembered where he stood to watch them, where he visited downtown with family and he quickly became a “hometown hero” to the young and old alike in the audience.

His remarks were not “canned.” They were from firsthand experience and from the heart. It was apparent his parents, family and his hometown inspired him as he grew up and pursued his career with the U.S. Marine Corps.

If you read his credentials in the Cleveland Daily Banner, you can see his 20-year career was illustrious with many, many honors. His dress blues on Memorial Day shined with the results of his achievements and it inspired the young people who were in awe of his presence. After his military career, Pelley went into the classroom where he is now inspiring other young people to love their country as he does. Today, he is back home in Lexington, S.C., where he teaches national science for the Naval Junior ROTC Program at White Knoll High School.

First Sgt. Pelley left his hometown with a stirring message and a challenge — to never, ever forget our military heroes.

The view from my vantage point on stage was truly awe-inspiring. On the front row were our World War II vets, proudly sitting in the sunshine to pay honor to fallen heroes.

In the crowd was a mix of young and old, some of them there to hear the names of loved ones on the “Last Roll Call.” One of those was Evelyn Coffey, whose husband, Cledis, died in April. He was a former Marine, so Pelley’s message was even more special to her, as was the moment she heard the drums roll and her husband’s name called for the “Last Roll Call.” The Coffeys, along with family members, have long been faithful attendees of Memorial and Veterans Day ceremonies. Evelyn knew Cledis would have wanted her there to hear the “Last Roll Call.” Through the years, the two of them had listened as names of friends and family were called. Of her husband, Mrs. Coffey told the guest speaker, “Cledis was a proud Marine.”

The final part of the service is the 21-gun salute by our own Firing Squad, made up of local veterans. They volunteer their time to many special events, including funerals of veterans. Then “Taps” played and Pastor Quinn Green, of Kinser Church of God, gave our benediction. A bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” played softly to conclude the service and provide a perfect setting to reflect, remember and memorialize our veteran heroes.

Memorial Day 2013 was a proud moment for many. Businesses close on this day. They close so their communities can remember our veterans. An hour of your day on Memorial Day is little to give for such a distinguished group of men and women who served so we could be free.

Thanks to each and every one who came Monday and to the many who took part to make it a fitting memorial service. Put it on your calendar for next year. You’ll be glad you did.