A crowd estimated at 250, perhaps more, came out in their red, white and blue to embrace the cause of patriotism while paying homage to the soldiers of all wars whose ultimate sacrifice was marked in the spilled blood of democratic ideals and American freedom.
Fittingly, 1st Sgt. Pelley was speaking to family — that of his country and those of his own hometown. As most know, this proud soldier is a Bradley County son who is native to our own city of Charleston.
In his remarks, this U.S. Marine reminded us Memorial Day “... should be a day of solemn reflection.”
No truer words could be spoken. No finer point on the meaning of liberty at its deepest root can be made.
But, as Americans are reminded almost daily, freedom is not free. Too often it comes at heartbreaking cost. Pelley pointed to four cases where the sacrifice of the one kept hope alive for the many, including those in our generation and others well beyond.
He remembered Charlotte Heim, a 95-year-old widow from Baltimore who each Memorial Day dons her finest outfit and travels to Baltimore National Cemetery to pay respects to her late husband, Pfc. Carroll “Curly” Druery who courageously gave his life at Iwo Jima in World War II.
He remembered Lance Cpl. Christian Porter, a 20-year-old soldier from Springfield, Ill., who died in Operation Desert Storm, and whose father was a wounded veteran from the Vietnam War.
He remembered Lance Cpl. Joshua L. Torrence, a 21-year-old soldier from Lexington, S.C., who went to the high school where Pelley teaches and who was killed by an improvised explosive device while serving a tour of duty in Iraq.
He remembered Capt. Brent Morel, a Martin native and Middle Tennessee State University graduate of “impeccable character and integrity” who died while serving in Iraq.
These are the stories of just four. They lived, and they died, among the thousands of elite American soldiers — men and women — who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, to their families and communities back home and to the American way of life.
Of Memorial Day observance across our land, from Arlington National Cemetery to small towns of only a few hundred, Pelley told his listeners, “... 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.”
“Today,” this fine young former Marine told our townspeople, “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.”
Not a day of celebration but of remembrance, not a time of joy but reflection, Memorial Day seeks to honor while embracing the loss and recognizing the great cost that freedom sometimes brings, he told us.
Pelley called Memorial Day a mission, one whose task is not of labor but of heart. And, it is one of remembering.
“... 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.”
So long as American soldiers die, let us rekindle the embers of their memory on each and every Memorial Day, and not just in our Cleveland, Charleston and Bradley County hometown but in cities and countrysides across the vast heartland of America.
We will offer a final thought on Sunday.