Memorial Day service, “Freedom isn’t free”
There is no other way to describe the Memorial Day Sunrise Service, held Monday morning at the Blanding Cemetery.
Staff Sergeants Travis Butler and Danny Murdock of the Utah National Guard stand at attention in the background until time for the flag ceremony, performing their sacred duty with precision and solemnity.
The sun breaks through the clouds just as the Stars and Stripes reach the top of the flagpole. The symbol of our country hovers there for a moment before being lowered to half staff.
Then, silence. Eyes on the flag, hearts expanding, all minds focused on the men and women who have and who are serving our country.
LeGrand Redd sings the “Star Spangled Banner” a cappella. No showing off on the high notes; rather a heartfelt rendition that communicates sincere pride and patriotism.
Then, silence. Eyes on a young man who obviously loves his country, hearts expanding, minds focusing on the history of this great nation – a history written with the blood of those who have defended and protected her.
Robert Turk, Blanding City Councilman and Marine Corps Veteran, speaks not of his own experience but rather honors all those from San Juan County who have given the ultimate sacrifice in exchange for the freedoms citizens so often take for granted.
With feeling, he reads each name, the year they were killed in action, the foreign soil they died on, and their ages. All 28 of them. Average age: 24 years.
Turk shares a story passed down by his grandfather, a World War II pilot who flew 36 missions in a B17 over Nazi-occupied Europe.
The narrative is of a Flying Fortress hit by enemy fire above Germany. The plane was descending in flames.
The captain ordered the living to bail out and one by one the troops exited doors and hatches – all except a young airman in the ball turret who was not only injured but trapped by a jammed mechanism. The boy cried out, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me here alone!”
The last airman to leave the plane witnessed the gunnery sergeant – hand primed to reach for his rip cord, surely every instinct yearning to live – reach into the turret and grasp the hand of the youth. “Take it easy, kid,” he said. “I’ll take this ride down with you.”
Then silence, as Turk gains control over his emotions. Tears fill eyes, hearts expand, minds focus on those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
“Freedom isn’t free,” Turk reminds the audience, “and we need to use our freedoms to better serve one another.”
Then he adds part of a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
A violin and guitar duet by Kristan and Denver Smith, “Ashokan Farewell,” rends the air in benediction, before participants respectfully rise for ceremonial taps.
Then, silence, as the members of the audience continue to stand several more minutes, held captive by feelings, thoughts, and memories.
It was truly a perfect way to commemorate Memorial Day.