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Marine Corp League members lay and salute a wreath. Monday marked the 29th annual Memorial Day Ceremony at Centennial Memorial Park in downtown Anniston. (Photo by Trent Penny)

Army Capt. Torre Mallard of Anniston was set to end his second tour in Iraq six weeks from March 10, 2008, when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, killing him and two others.

His uncle, Stasey Mallard, has laid a rose each year since in his honor at the Memorial Day ceremonies held each year at Centennial Memorial Park in Anniston.

Mallard said attending the ceremonies has been hard, but it gets a little easier every year.

“They say time heals all wounds,” Mallard said. “Just getting almost an understanding of why.”

Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs board member Ken Rollins, who organized Monday’s ceremony, said more than 200 people people participated despite temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

During a speech, VA commissioner Kent Davis, who served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker, told the stories of five soldiers from Alabama who died over the past century.

“These heroes represent in so many ways the best qualities of those who have served,” Davis said.

The ceremony also included comments from Calhoun County Commissioner Eli Henderson, a wreath-laying tribute to fallen Vietnam War soldier Allen Ray Chaffin, and a tribute by the East Central alabama Young Marines to all fallen soldiers.

Cleburne County Probate Judge Ryan Robertson, Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin, Steve Chappell and Brian Conary provided musical performances.

Robertson, who has family in the military, said he was honored to be able to participate.

“God gave us different gifts,” Robertson said. “Music is a small thing that I can do to help with ceremonies and events like this.”

As a Navy and Army veteran, Davis said afterwards, seeing so many people there was moving.

“It touches the heart when you see that people care that you served, sometimes in dangerous situations and they’re willing to say thanks,” Davis said. “It does mean a lot.”

Davis said people in the state are typically enthusiastic about the military, and Anniston is at the forefront.

“The existence of this park is a testament to that,” said Davis, who worked as Anniston’s city manager in 2016 and 2017. “There are plenty of cities that do something for Memorial Day. This is amongst the best.”

While he believes the nation is facing turbulent times and divided on certain issues, Rollins said, the ceremony brought people together.

“This program we had today was an attempt to use patriotism and God for us all to get together today,” Rollins said. “There’s probably just as many Democrats as there are Republicans. You don’t see anyone talking about either.”

Mallard said attending the ceremonies is bittersweet. While they give him the opportunity to mourn his nephew, he said, they also serve as a source of comfort.

“It’s almost like a sense of security, knowing that they’re continuing to do this and honor the fallen soldiers,” Mallard said. “It gives us the assurance that we can still have freedom here, but someone had to sacrifice that.”

Mallard said he had one concern about the ceremony: that less and less people were turning out each year.

“It still has meaning, so it shouldn’t get smaller,” Mallard said. “I would like to see it get larger. Come out and support people who have given their life for us.”

Contact Staff Writer Amalia Kortright at 256-235-3563.