DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – The gray sky and drizzling rain that fell Monday morning lent an even more sober note to the day as 150 or so people attended the Memorial Day Remembrance Ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park.
Members of the Dawson County High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) raised the American flag and the POW/MIA flag and presented the military branch flags, the Missing Man Table and the Laying of Memorial Wreaths.
Sergeant First Class Paul H. van Oudheusden gave the brief keynote address. He is currently stationed in Dahlonega where he trains Army Rangers, but after more than 20 years of service, he will be retiring soon. He served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, has been awarded two bronze stars, the Ranger tab and Senior Parachutist wings.
“To me, Memorial Day is a day to remember the men and women who died while serving the people of the United States,” he said. “For me, it’s a somber day. It’s not a day to reflect on what I have done in the Army or to thank my fellow service men and women. Today is a day for me to remember my brothers and sisters in arms who will never come home again, never see their parents, siblings, spouses or children again. Today, I remember the sacrifice they made for all of us.”
As he spoke, veterans and non-veterans, men and women, young and old listened intently and reflected on the freedom that was purchased by the blood of the men and women who gave the last full measure of devotion for them.
“I’ve lost a lot of good friends during my 20 years in the service,” van Oudheusden said, “but the hardest loss for me was when I came home and the friends I lost to PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and the demons they face.
“When I was in combat, there was an understanding of sacrifice. The loss of someone was hard but it happened. It was war and we lost men. But to come home and lose a soldier, a friend to their own hand was to me incomprehensible. So I ask today that you remember all the service members who lost their fight to PTSD as well.”
Vietnam Veteran William Sexton was one of those who attended the ceremony. “This is just a day for all of us to remember,” he said. Sexton as much as anyone had fellow service members to remember. He served in the bloody Mekong Delta, flying helicopters and said he had lost many friends in that conflict.
The ceremony ended with a moment of silence, the playing of “Taps” by Dawson County High School’s Charles Arnold and the Laying of Memorial Wreaths.
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