TUPELO – When prayer, song and conversation ceased, for a moment the solemn strains of taps – the bugle call for “lights out” – drifting on the breeze were all that could be heard during the Memorial Day celebration at Veterans Park.
“I think it was beautiful, lovely and touching,” said Tyrus Cobb Gibbs, an Air Force veteran and former German prisoner of war who served in World War II and Korea.
Gibbs, in a black POW T-shirt, was one of about 300 people who gathered Monday at the park’s Veterans Memorial for the service.
“I think it helps bring people together,” he said, “and I would agree with the general that the present people are the greatest.”
Gibbs was referring to Maj. Gen. Bob Chesnut, retired from the U.S. Army after 38 years of service and the celebration’s featured speaker.
“We have the best trained, best led, best equipped Army in the history of the nation,” Chesnut said, calling all branches of the United States military a national treasure. “Thankfully, each generation of Americans have answered that call.”
Memorial Day became a national holiday in 1968, though Southerners began honoring Civil War dead in the 1860s and Northerners similarly observed Decoration Day.
Through all the wars since, “Freedom is not free,” Chesnut said. “It comes with a heavy price.”
More than 5,000 U.S. troops have died in the current Global War on Terror, including 396 since last Memorial Day, said Chesnut, whose duty it once was to meet the remains of U.S. servicemen and women at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“The day is not long when Dover will no longer have cause to host any fallen warrior’s return home,” he said.
Bill Tallant, a retired Army first sergeant, emceed Monday’s program.
“I think young people need to know the history (of Memorial Day), and why it should be respected and honored,” Tallant said, also calling attention to the brick pavers that can be purchased in honor of a veteran.
After taps, 6-year-old Reid Hardison walked the open-air memorial by the Veterans Park lake, looking for Air Force veteran Bert R. Miller’s name.
“It’s to understand the experience and share the sacrifice,” said Reid’s dad, Dwight Hardison, “and to honor his grandfather.”
Ginny Miller/NEMS Daily Journal