Maj. Gen. Sheryl E. Gordon, adjutant general of the Alabama National Guard, spoke to a full house at the Ritz Theater on Monday on the significance and importance of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day, she said, is a day of somber reflection on those who, “in the words of Abraham Lincoln, gave the last full measure of devotion.”
Gordon explained that the current observance of Memorial Day grew out of the period following the Civil War, when family members would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers on “Decoration Day.” That practice continues today with members of the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, placing small flags on all of the graves in Arlington National Cemetery. In 2000, Congress added a one-minute pause at 3 p.m. local time to the traditional observance, “to preserve the memory of the service and sacrifice of the volunteers who keep us free.”
In addition, she said today was also a day to remember, in particularly, those who stormed the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Some 160,000 soldiers landed along 50 miles of fortified coastline that day, along with 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft. In his order for the day, Gen. Eisenhower pledged “full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.”
Some 9,000 Americans were killed or wounded on that day, but they established a foothold to begin the march across Europe to defeat Hitler, she said.
American servicemen and women have also fought “across the south Pacific, on the frozen hills of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the sands of Iraq and the caves of Afghanistan.”
Currently, the United States is served by more than 450,000 National Guardsmen, including 13,000 from Alabama. Since the 9/11 attacks, 26,000 have been deployed, and “all of them either enlisted or re-enlisted. They embody the courage, pride, determination and duty, and the belief that, as Americans, we are worthy of sacrifice.”
She concluded her remarks by recognizing all of the Gold Star families present, and thanking them for their sacrifices with a quote from Gen. George Patton: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”