JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Despite the sweltering heat of a late May Texas day, hundreds of people packed the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery May 28 for a Memorial Day remembrance ceremony to honor those who sacrificed their lives in service of their country.
More than 400 people sought shade beneath trees or umbrellas at the cemetery’s amphitheater, which is set amongst almost 160,000 headstones, each sporting an American flag placed there by volunteers a few days earlier. Many were in uniforms brought out the closet for this day, or in shirts or jackets which spoke of their past service.
Many people were quietly offering prayers and shedding tears in between the words of the guest speakers and performances from the 323rd Army Band “Fort Sam’s Own” and the Alamo Metro Chorus of Sweet Adelines.
Memorial Day is rooted in Decoration Day, a holiday honoring Civil War dead on both sides. First observed in 1868, it became a widespread tradition and was expanded after World War I to commemorate U.S. troops who died in all conflicts. Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971.
While many people choose to spend the holiday barbecuing or shopping with family and friends, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Tom Earnest, who served as master of ceremonies, said, “On Memorial Day, all Americans should remember and reflect on those who died for our country and who now lie in peace.”
Roshanda Bost, the cemetery’s assistant director, read a letter from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“This weekend, Americans pause to pay tribute to the men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Cruz’s letter said. “Freedom is a precious gift, handed down from one generation to the next, but the greatest gift comes with great responsibility. America has been blessed with millions of men and women who courageously accepted the responsibility to serve our nation’s military. They gave their all to pass down freedom, which is the dream of so many.”
Retired U.S. Army Col. Sylvia Sanchez was this year’s guest speaker. A native of San Antonio who graduated from Brackenridge High School, she began her military career in the Army Student Nurse Program while studying at St. Mary’s School of Nursing and was accepted into the Army Nurse Corps in 1967.
She left active duty in 1977 and then joined the Texas Army National Guard. Sanchez was the first woman to serve as the state commander for the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars.
At the ceremony, Sanchez focused on honoring the fallen and embracing the feeling of honor and pride.
“From the patriots who fired the first shot of the American Revolution to the forces we have deployed around the world today, America has been blessed to have citizens who will serve, fight, and sometimes die for this country,” Sanchez said.
“People around the world were able to gain freedom from oppression, from dictatorship, and just to get their country back in shape,” Sanchez said of those being honored. “It is not for money or medals that these people step forward. It is instead for patriotism, a love for this country, and for the values on which it was founded – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Each headstone here carries a different story,” she added. “Each person had a name, had a family. We must continue to honor their legacy, the legacy of America’s true heroes.
“We need to ensure the youth of tomorrow know the true cost of freedom,” Sanchez said. “We must remind each other that the freedoms we enjoy today have come at a very expensive price. Freedom isn’t free.”