Hundreds gathered within the peaceful confines of Fort Jackson National Cemetery this morning to honor those who sacrificed all their earthly joys to secure, protect, and defend our precious freedoms.
Brigadier General Bryan T. Roberts, Commanding General, United States Army Training Center and Fort Jackson, was on hand to offer remarks on this, the first time Memorial Day ceremonies have been held at the cemetery only, in conjunction with Fort Jackson:
"Today's ceremony is significant because it marks the first time Fort Jackson and the Department of Veterans Affairs have combined their Memorial Day ceremonies at one place: Fort Jackson National Cemetery. I know this will be the start of a long-lasting tradition."
General Roberts continued:
"The men and women we honor today came from all walks of life, from every corner of this nation. They were our fathers and sons, our mothers and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors.
"They were ordinary people -- living ordinary lives -- who were asked to make extraordinary sacrifices for their country."
As over 1,500 small flags fluttered gently beside over 1,500 white tombstones, those who had come to pay solemn respects were still and listened.
General Roberts elaborated:
"They answered the call to arms -- but not because of a love of war. They answered for a higher purpose: to preserve liberty, justice, equality, and the right to live in a world free from oppression.
"Their headstones, found on virtually every continent, are each individual memorials testifying to the sacred cause of freedom."
He went on to say:
"We, who are the heirs of their legacy, must always be the guardians of their dreams. It falls to us to stand against those who sow the seeds of war and to stand with those who take risks of peace.
"We can pay them no greater honor than to cherish that sacred legacy of freedom, and make it clear we are committed to its preservation, whatever the cost."
The sun was warm on backs and shoulders as majestic cloud formations scudded overhead and a cooling breeze nudged the colors on their stanchions.
General Roberts concluded:
"Today's soldiers continue to prove they are willing to risk everything and to give up the comforts of life so that others -- average American citizens -- can go about their daily routines freely and without fear.
"I leave you with these words from a monument in Arlington National Cemetery:
Not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity, but in simple obedience to duty as they understood it, these men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all, and died.
"May God bless you, this great nation, and all our forces in harm's way!"
The ceremony concluded with the laying of a wreath by General Roberts and CSM Kevin Benson, USATC and Fort Jackson, after which the flag was lowered to half-staff by COL Warren Benson USA (Ret.) and ETC Max J. Kaster USN (Ret.).
A rifle salute rang out over the quiet grounds, far beyond the heads of those who stood at attention or simply with grateful hands over patriotic hearts. Then the strains of Taps drifted into the air with tender solemnity, the plaintive notes settling in voids created by loss.
Chaplain Samuel Boone offered an "open eyes" benediction in which all present were enjoined to trust God, to love Him and to let Him love us.
Reverend Edward Wilkes of the Palmetto Pipes and Drums ended the short ceremony by playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.
As Paula Darrow dismissed the meeting, those ordinary citizens for whom so many have laid down their lives swarmed the cemetery once more to linger in love, to remember happier times, and to pay final reverential respects.
Another Memorial Day lived in freedom! May God bless the United States of America.
Jennifer Weber is the owner of Angel Funeral Photography. When she's not preoccupied with taking pictures in cemeteries, she blogs relentlessly at I'm Having A Thought Here and A Route of Evanescence. She is a frequent contributor to Find A Grave.