Barbara Sears, New River Chapter Personal Affairs Chair, was the presenter at the Memorial Day Celebration at Ashelawn Veteran's Cemetery on May 29, 2022.
Read her speech here:
Good afternoon, COL Hollis, Mr. Josh Roten, Sheriff Howell, Cadets from the Ashe County High School JROTC, ladies and gentlemen,
As I was thinking about what I would say today, my earliest memories of patriotism came to mind. When I was a child I lived in Panama City, Panama. My father was a State Department employee; we were American citizens. I chattered away in Spanish with my little friends as we rode bikes and roller skated-doing the things that kids do here in this country. At the time the United States controlled the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone was home to American military families, several military bases, and American schools. I attended school in the Canal Zone. Not only did I attend school in the Canal Zone, but it’s where I took swimming lessons and ballet classes. Those extracurricular activities ended at 4:30 in the afternoon and our mother would let us play on the playground until a bugler sounded “Retreat” at 5:00. We’d hop off the swings as soon as the first notes sounded, stand ramrod straight and put our hands over our hearts. When the bugle was silenced, we’d pile in the car and return to our neighborhood in the city. I played patriotic music on 78 RPM records left over from my father’s WWII days in Special Services at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas. I’d march around the apartment feeling the excitement of the music, feeling proud to be an American, even though I had no memory of ever living in this country. So, I had been a child-patriot for many, many, many years. (I won’t tell you how many, but if you remember 78 RPM records, you and I are probably about the same age!)
When we returned to the United States permanently, we moved to a small town that celebrated the 4th of July with a wonderful parade: high school marching bands, bagpipes, kids riding their bikes decorated in red, white, and blue, the JROTC. Flag waving at its best!
My patriotism got an extra shot of adrenaline when I married Commander Scott Sears. The next 30 years were filled with military ceremonies, military bands, cannon volleys, gun salutes, uniforms, and flags. When he died of a neuromuscular disease in 2011, I unfortunately experienced the ultimate show of patriotism- his burial at Arlington Cemetery complete with a horse-drawn caisson, the Navy band, and a multiple gun salute.
So, I stand here today full of pride to be an American, to live in Ashe County, and to be sharing these moments with you.
Memorial Day is not a day of celebration. It is a solemn day- a day to remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our right to assemble here, to speak freely, to choose our government officials, to go anywhere we wish, to enjoy all of the rights spelled out for us in the Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights and our Constitution. We are who and where we are because of men and women from all over our country who answered the call to defend our rights. They answered the call during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korean War, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and the Gulf War. We owe them this day of remembrance.
There are statistics stating how many died in each of the wars, but they are not just numbers nor names on a black granite wall. They were people like you and I who believed that what they left at home was worth defending, even if it meant losing their lives. So today I remember specific people whom I cannot forget.
I remember Richard Gray whom my brother and I played with when we were growing up. A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, he was ready for take-off on a tarmac in Viet Nam when a sniper ended his life.
I remember Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, who rests eternally right here. The 22-year-old soldier died from wounds sustained in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, while supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. I am reminded of Dillon’s sacrifice every time I go to Glendale Springs as the bridge once known as Sheets Bridge is now named for him.
I think about COL Notley Maddox, an uncle by marriage, a pilot in the Air Force flying intelligence-gathering missions in Viet Nam when his plane went down. It was his twins’ 8th birthday. It is suspected that he became a POW. He never came home. He left a pair of twins and another son for his wife to raise on her own.
And lest we forget those who fought wars not fresh in our hearts and minds, let me remind you of those soldiers who shivered and starved through the Winter at Valley Forge. Or the battles at Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Chancellorsville where brother fought brother on fields where corn once contentedly grew. Or the doughboys crouched in the muddy trenches of France.
Today we honor the fallen, but do we owe them more than a day of remembrance, gun salutes, flags on their graves, and flowers on the water? I believe we do. I quote Richelle Goodrich, an author whose father was a Viet Nam War veteran: “On this day, take time to remember those who have fallen. But on every day after, do more; put the freedoms they died for to greater and nobler uses.” That, I believe, is our duty: to honor their sacrifice by doing what we can “to put the freedoms they died for to greater and nobler uses.” Get involved in local government, fly a flag, take a walk through a national cemetery and if you are so inclined, pray for specific names on tombstones, thank a veteran for his or her service, support the military through local military organizations, re-read the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution.
I’ll share with you one small thing that I do: I carry several U.S. flags in my car and when I see a tattered one on someone’s flag pole, I leave a new one in their mailbox.
Ceremonies are important and I don’t minimize the outpouring of honor we pay those who made the ultimate sacrifice. But our gratitude has to be more than a once-a-year Memorial Day ceremony. We honor the dead best by treating the living well. Let me repeat that: we honor the dead best by treating the living well.
God bless those who paid the ultimate price.
God bless their grieving families.
God bless you.
And God bless the United States of America.