Flags fluttered in the breeze as hundreds of service members, families and citizens gathered at Quantico National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Monday for the somber remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of our country.
The 32nd annual ceremony, sponsored by the Potomac Region Veterans Council, included musical selections by the Quantico Marine Corps Band, remarks by distinguished guests and veterans, the laying of a wreath and a keynote speaker, Donnie Sisk, the new director of Quantico National Cemetery. The ceremony also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
Veterans handed out artificial poppies and forget-me-not flowers as an enduring reminder of those who have fallen.
"For those who have worn the uniform, the military is a fraternity like no other," said Col. David W. Maxwell, commander, Marine Corps Base Quantico, in his opening remarks. "It’s a family forged from shared sacrifice, the sacrifice of service to an idea greater than ourselves."
Veterans on motorcycles from across the East Coast rode to volunteer at the cemetery.
Retired Sgt. Major of the Army Don Martin has volunteered at the ceremony for the last three years passing out water and helping veterans off buses. A member of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Martin rides in Rolling Thunder, lays a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and volunteers at the Quantico National Cemetery as a Memorial Day tradition with other members.
Sisk delivered the keynote address at the observance.
This is a "ceremony about rendering proper honors to the men and women who devoted their lives and their selfless service in the name of a timeless cause on behalf of principals far nobler than themselves," Sisk said.
Sisk urged the crowd to remember, respect, and mourn those who have fallen, and to "renew our call to service and care for those widows and orphans of our brave warriors."
For three women in the crowd, this Memorial Day was notably more poignant than previous years.
Wearing their husbands’ Marine dog tags around their necks, Elizabeth Davis, Taylor Strong and Kristine Stewart sat in the second row at the ceremony, surrounded by their young children, relatives and friends. All three of their husbands died in 2014.
"It’s nice to see people come out and honor their sacrifice," Davis said.
Her husband, 1st Lt. Matt Davis, died Nov. 7, 2014 and is buried at Quantico National Cemetery.
Sisk encouraged the audience to honor a hero by participating in an act of service in the coming week.
"Here, Americans lie forever still and forever honored because they, like their brothers and sisters before them assumed the heavy duty of supporting freedom for their countrymen.
Those we honor today wrote and made possible both our history and our future. Through their service they defined our destiny and defined our chapters of our history all too often in the ink of blood, sweat and tears," Sisk said. "They did not fail us and we must not fail them."