Wednesday, May 29, 2013

TOP STORY >> A walk among giants

Leader staff writer

Hundreds gathered Monday at the State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock to remember those who died serving our county and those who are still putting their lives at risk to preserve our freedoms.

Gov. Mike Beebe gave the Memorial Day address at the event. He said that while many would spend the day honoring former service members who returned home, “We’d be remiss to not acknowledge that our veterans stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. Traditions don’t just happen.”

Beebe told the crowd that all Americans owe a debt to servicemen that they couldn’t possibly pay. Those who come home often return to a broken family, with disabilities or with “inordinate stress” that will haunt them for the rest of their lives, he noted.

“The least we can do is provide love, honor, support and respect when they come home,” Beebe said. “Freedom is not free and someone has to pay for our rights and privileges. It only takes a minute, less than a minute, to shake their hands and thank them for their service.”

The governor stressed the importance of keeping military families in mind because they often make the ultimate sacrifice of losing a loved one. He said that we often pay the most attention to mothers and spouses.

“(But) we must never forget the children. Those who have to live the longest with the loss are the children,” Beebe said.

World War II veteran Harold Kindirck, 90, of North Little Rock said after the service that this was his first time to attend the annual event.

“This is beautiful here. It was all good,” he said.

Kindirck was a crew chief who enlisted at the age of 18. He served with the Army Air Corps and the 71st Infantry Division.

The veteran joked that he used to kick paratroopers out of planes. He still has shrapnel in one arm and one of his friends was buried just a few hundred feet from where the service was held.

Kindirck said he and his fellow servicemen helped the United States find 80 concentration camps. Many of them were in Austria, he said.

The veteran was proud to say he received one Silver Star and six Bronze Stars for his service.

Tuskegee Airman Milton Crenchaw, 94, also attended the Memorial Day event. Admirers who wanted to have their picture taken with him surrounded Crenchaw. He also visited with Brig. Gen. (Select) Brian Robinson, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, who thanked Crenchaw for his service.

Crenchaw said, “Every good ceremony starts out with God. What a day, what a day.”

He commented on how the sunny weather and slight breeze was perfect for the outdoor festivities.

Among the many veterans who attended the event were six who agreed to represent comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.

The audience was silent as the following veterans were escorted to their seats:

•  Yoeman 2nd Class Wayne Harris, who served in the Navy during World War II.

• Retired Lt. Col Robert Bird, who served in the Air Force during the Korean War.

•  Retired Master Sgt. Frank Alterman, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

• Retired Maj. Randy Massanelli, who served in the Army during Operation Desert Storm.

• Chief Master Sgt. Margarita Overton, an airman who was deployed to Iraq.

• First Sgt. Eric Cayson, a Marine who was deployed to Afghanistan.

All veterans and current servicemen were asked to stand up during the ceremony. They received a robust round of applause.

A table was set to honor those who could not stand — prisoners of war and servicemen who are missing in action.

The master of ceremonies, Command Sgt. Gregory Galloway, explained that the table is round to show our everlasting concern for the missing men and the tablecloth is white to symbolize the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty.

He said the single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of those Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.

Galloway said the vase is tied with a red ribbon to symbolize our continued determination to account for our missing.

A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land and pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers, he said.

Galloway explained that the Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.

The glass is inverted to symbolize their inability to share in the event and the chairs are empty because they are missing, he said.

There were six places to represent each branch of the military. The Little Rock Air Force Base Honor Guard placed the caps that are part of each branch’s uniforms on the table to further emphasize that.

The event began with a welcome by Galloway, the presentation of colors by the color guard of the National Guard Bureau’s Professional Education Center, the national anthem and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Veazey of the Army National Guard reminded the audience in his invocation, “Freedom comes at a price.”

Jason Smedley, military liaison with the governor’s office, read Beebe’s proclamation naming Monday as Memorial Day in Arkansas.

Cissy Rucker, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, told the crowd, “Let’s keep memorial in Memorial Day. Teach your children what it means.”

She said people should stop at 3 p.m. Monday and take a moment of silence to honor soldiers who didn’t come home.

Rucker and Beebe placed the last memorial wreath at the ceremony.

Forest Harrell, past president of the Fleet Reserve Association for the South Central Region, read the names of 11 members of the Fleet Reserve Branch 282 in Little Rock who died in 1999, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Another Fleet Reserve representative tolled the bell for each name to honor the fallen servicemen.