Crowds gathered in Tooele and Grantsville cities Monday morning to hear Memorial Day speeches on patriotism, loyalty and sacrifice.
Though the army veteran certainly deserves our thanks, citizens should also take time to recognize less traditional heroes who also sacrifice for the good of our country, two keynote speakers said.
In Tooele City’s Veteran’s Square, Col. Roger McCreery, commander of Tooele Army Depot, asked citizens to take time to recognize those who may not seem like a stereotypical military veteran — the drill sergeant who helps prepare young soldiers for battle, for example, or support staff who aid soldiers while they are deployed.
“A veteran does not have to die in battle to be worthy of recognition,” he said. “It is our responsibility as citizens to pay homage to all those who serve.”
McCreery told the story of a chaplain whose unit came under heavy fire. The chaplain had the chance to fall back, McCreery said, but he ultimately chose to stay behind to administer to injured and dying soldiers. His choice caused him to be captured by the enemy, and he later died in a POW camp.
“He did not shoulder a rifle or wield a bayonet — he carried a Bible and holy water,” McCreery said, yet many soldiers with whom he served credited the chaplain with saving their lives.
McCreery also spoke of the importance of recognizing female soldiers who have elected to place themselves in harm’s way to carry out special cultural support missions in Afghanistan. There, societal norms prevent women from interacting with male U.S. soldiers.
He spoke of one young woman who enlisted in such a specialized unit after her husband returned home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. After being deployed, she and three others in her unit were killed by an IED. But before she died, her husband said, she seemed happy to serve her country.
Her husband, like the families of all who serve in the armed forces, also made a significant sacrifice, McCreery said.
“We also know those left behind carry a burden only you can understand,” he said. “We thank you for your service, and promise to support you.”
McCreery also spoke of Spc. Jordan Byrd, a Tooele County resident and combat medic, who died in action after using his own body as a shield to protect a wounded comrade.
“He will never be forgotten,” McCreery said.
The depot’s commander also said that sharing stories of men and woman in the service was an important part of honoring their memories.
“Their stories are the stories of our nation, and they deserve to be told, honored and remembered on Memorial Day,” he said.
At the Grantsville City Cemetery, local veteran Tom Hammond also said Memorial Day was a day for sharing memories of those who have served their country in the armed forces.
Veterans take on a demanding job with unreliable hours, and may be deployed anywhere, at any moment, he said. These men and women work in some of the harshest conditions on Earth, but Hammond said he has never known a veteran who didn’t serve faithfully.
“One thing that has always stuck out in my mind about veterans is that they never complain about where they are or what they do,” he said.
However, Hammond said that Memorial Day was also a day for honoring immigrant ancestors and others who have made sacrifices for future generations of Americans.
“The lifestyle we live, and the opportunities we have, would not be possible without the sacrifice of our veterans and our ancestors,” he said.