When he reached the top of a hill at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines capital city, Gary Dyer lost his breath.
That’s because as he looked around, reality hit him that he was standing in the middle of 152 acres of white marble crosses.
He said Filipinos have always been so thankful for what Americans, including his father, did there during World War II that they ensure the cemetery remains spotless.
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“At that moment, tears began to go down my eyes because I thought of the reality of what it cost that we could have the freedom to stand here today,” he said during Monday’s Memorial Day service in the American Legion Post 89 parking lot in Seymour.
Dyer, chaplain for the post, said Memorial Day is a day of memories and a time to thank veterans from the Navy, Marines, Army, Coast Guard, Air Force and National Guard.
“It’s an honor to stand in front of you today and speak about something I hold dear in my heart: The sacrifices of our nation’s heroes,” he said. “We are gathered to honor our veterans, many who were willing to give of themselves and defend this great country.”
It’s a day set aside to remember the men and women who answered America’s call to serve and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, he said.
“Today, we stand up and say, ‘Thank you. We remember you. We are grateful to you.’ Must we never forget them,” Dyer said.
“We honor their loved ones, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters and friends,” he said. “Every year, families of the fallen are joined together and bound by loss in a way that most people cannot imagine. But there’s something special about military families. We pay a price so other families can enjoy the freedoms we share in America.”
Jack Schrader, who served as the Post 89 commander for six years, said Memorial Day is a sacred day for all veterans.
“None of us need to be reminded of the reasons that Memorial Day must be remembered,” he said. “Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. Americans’ collective conscience commands that all citizens recall and be aware of the service of their fellow countrymen during wartime and peacetime.”
Far too often, though, he said the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy.
“Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew,” Schrader said. “That’s why they are all remembered on one special day: Memorial Day.”
Paul Jewett of Seymour, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1956 to 1960, was among the veterans attending Monday’s service. He and his wife make that a priority each year, whether it’s at the typical host site, Riverview Cemetery, or at the post.
“We go every year. I don’t think we’ve ever missed one,” he said. “I think it’s the thing to do. I hate to think that we would forget about the veterans. That’s the main thing. I’m glad to see we can remember.”
Still today, he’s proud of his service.
“I’ve been glad that I had the opportunity to do it, and it was good for me, the experience,” Jewett said.
At times, Dyer said it seems overwhelming thinking of the sacrifices that survivors and veterans made physically and emotionally, and that makes it hard to just say, “Thank you.”
Members of the military fight a good fight and keep the faith, he said.
“I was ready to be offered up to die for what we believe in. We went to fight, and yes, to die if necessary. That was our duty as a soldier,” the Vietnam veteran said. “The serviceman goes to war not wanting to die but knows of the ever-looming possibility that may happen.”
By God’s grace, Dyer said service members lived and can stand here today proud, strong and thankful while having a tear in their eye remembering those who died serving their country.
“We honor our dead by never forgetting them. We honor our wounded by always caring for them. We honor their families by loving them. We honor our country by standing up with her and fighting for her,” he said. “We honor them all by keeping prayer vigils for each and every one. We remember those that are still out there fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan today. We do not forget them. We pray for them. We think about them.”
He closed by thanking veterans.
“May God bless you and keep you always in his ultimate grace,” Dyer said. “Amen and amen.”