By: Emily LaForme and Mattie Cook
FORT KNOX, Ky., Maj. Gen. Christopher P. Hughes, Commanding General of Cadet Command and Fort Knox was slated as the 2017 Memorial Day Ceremony Guest Speaker hosted at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery in Radcliff, Ky., May 29.
The ceremony began with patriotic songs from the Heartland Fillies, a female a capella group from Elizabethtown, Ky. God Bless America, Amazing Grace and America the Beautiful set the tone for the event as one of pride and compassion.
Chaplain (Lt. Col) Brian Crane led attendees in a word of prayer, thanking God for such a beautiful day and for the service of those who sacrificed their life in the name of protecting Americans.
Hughes was then welcomed to the podium with a round of applause.
“Standing here today, I can think of no other place I’d rather be, to honor those who have gone before us, than right here, right now, with you,” said Hughes.
Hughes highlighted the significance of Memorial Day, reflecting on the traditions and history of the national day of remembrance.
“Since World War I, Memorial Day has been celebrated nationwide as a day to remember our honored dead–to decorate their final resting places and to honor the memory of our fallen heroes,” said Hughes. “Our Nation’s military members serve because they believe, not that war is good, but that war is sometimes necessary to defeat evil and protect freedom and liberty.”
Hughes then reflected on a personal experience years prior, where he was asked to speak on behalf of the fallen in his hometown for Memorial Day.
“The day before I spoke, I decided to walk the cemetery to better understand its history,” said Hughes. “I quickly realized that, despite the patriotism that was instilled in me as a young boy, through my father’s service in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and my grandfather’s service in WWI, I had failed to truly appreciate those who had gone before me in my hometown of less than 6,000 people.”
Hughes says that he focused on the military grave markers that day, reflecting on those fallen, from battles throughout history and all branches of the armed forces.
“The walk in the cemetery reminded me– that most of us in uniform are common men and women, who have committed to a cause greater than ourselves and voluntarily, placed ourselves in harm’s way to serve others and to make a difference,” said Hughes.
Hughes acknowledged the deep roots that lay between the surrounding communities and the U.S. armed forces.
“The gratitude and the desire to honor our fallen draws us here today together. Radcliff and the surrounding area, like my hometown, has known its share of loss and sacrifice, as evidenced by our Gold Star Families here today,” said Hughes.
Hughes also honored distinguished guests and retired WWII veteran, Ralph Reese, who was in attendance at the ceremony. Reese caught the attention of Hughes and was asked to not only sit alongside him at the ceremony, but called for applause in his name from those attending.
“I do want to give a special shoutout to Mr. Ralph Reese who is here today. He is a WWII veteran celebrating his 78th year having raised his right hand in sworn oath to defend the constitution of the United States,” said Hughes.
Following Hughes’ presentation, Human Resources Command (HRC) Honor Guard provided a demonstration of folding the American flag, with each fold meaning explained with it’s patriotic representation.
At perhaps its most poignant, the ceremony was led by the HRC Honor Guard in a presentation of the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Table. The table is set for one, with various items representing those who gave their lives in service but never made it home, and the absence felt by those left behind.
Clicking from the shoes of Honor Guard soldiers filled the ceremony site with rhythm and solace as they saluted those who have given their lives in defense of this great nation.
Hughes and Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth J. Kraus Jr., Command Sergeant Major of Cadet Command and Fort Knox were the honored wreath layers for the ceremony and saluted to those passed on as the trumpeting of TAPS rang over the cemetery.
The ceremony concluded with the Armed Forces Medley performed by 100th Army Band and sang by attendees.
Hughes closed his remarks by urging the audience to remember not only those that have served and sacrificed, but those currently serving in the armed forces of today.
“It’s this kind of selfless service that has always made America the beacon of hope and freedom around the world through time. This is why we must never fail to celebrate Memorial Day,” said Hughes. “We best honor the memory and sacrifice of our fallen by living our lives and enjoying the very freedoms they fought so hard to preserve, but also by remembering their service and passing on the meaning of today to our children.”