News: Service members march to remember the fallen on Memorial Day
Story by Spc. Justin Snyder
WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s the last Monday in the month of May, Memorial Day weekend.
For many Americans, this marks the start of the summer vacation season. Pools have opened, grills are barbequing, toes are in the sand and people are soaking up every last bit of sun before heading back to the daily grind Tuesday.
“There is nothing like a good barbeque and getting the whole family together,” said Spc. Teknesha Robinson, 165th Quartermaster Group soldier.
However, this year the barbeque will have to wait. Robinson, alongside her fellow Army Reserve soldiers from down-trace units from the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, volunteered to march in the 2012 National Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C. to honor those service members past fallen.
“I can barbeque any day of the week,” said Robinson, a native of Salisbury, Md. “But this truly means a lot and is a proud moment in my military career.”
Taking place just a stone’s throw from the Washington Monument, thousands of patriotic on-lookers of all different origins crowded the sidewalk of Constitution Avenue to adorn their red, white and blue attire.
“To me … it’s the most important holiday we celebrate in the United States of America. Without Memorial Day we have no reason for any other holiday,” said actor Joe Mantegna, who served as one of the co-honorary grand marshals for the parade.
Mantegna spent earlier hours leading up to the parade shaking hands with service members and posing for photographs.
“It’s a privilege (to shake hands with them). I wish I could reach across 250 years and shake hands with everyone that’s ever been in the military since the Revolutionary War. Since I can’t do that, this will have to do,” said Mantegna.
Kids waved miniature flags and gave the thumbs up sign to their American heroes, while adults snapped photos and sang along to the tunes of musical performers Kris Allen, G. Love and Angie Johnson.
The words “Thank You” and chants of “U.S.A.” could be heard throughout the crowd amongst the slamming of the marching band tambourines and drums.
“We appreciate the love and support we get from the American people,” said Spc. Neal Smith, 55th Sustainment Brigade intelligence analyst. “However, I believe that when they say thank you, it’s not just for us, but for the Army as a whole and those who came before us.”
“That’s what Memorial Day is all about. Showing that we will never forget and continuing to represent the Army at a high level.”
Since 2005, the American Veterans Center has sponsored the parade as a way to celebrate those who have served in uniform and to educate the public of the true meaning of Memorial Day.
The parade honors all those who have served in uniform beginning with re-enactors from the American Revolution up to representatives of the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly 200 elements including marching bands, current and retired military units, youth groups and parade floats took to the street to make the parade a success.
The grand marshal for this year’s parade was retired Maj. Gen. Chuck Yeager, United States Air Force. Yeager is a famed Air Force test pilot who most notably served in World War II as an Ace fighter pilot and was the first man to break the sound barrier.
Celebrity co-honorary marshals included Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut; Gary Sinise, star of “CSI: New York;” Mantegna, “CBS’s Criminal Minds;” and Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012.
Sinese, most notably known for his role as Lt. Dan in the movie “Forrest Gump,” has attended the parade every year since its revival in 2005. He said that he’s glad that he can use his role as a celebrity to bring notice to an important cause.
“There is no better way I would rather spend Memorial Day weekend than out here in Washington, D.C.,” said Sinise. “It’s just a wonderful way to pay tribute to those who have fallen and served for our country… But every day for me is a day that should be remembered for those who are sacrificing and serving out there. Our troops are our freedom providers and we have to thank God that we’ve got them out there.”
Allen, who rose to fame when he won American Idol in 2009, agreed with Sinise.
“It’s always good to be able to give back like this and show your support,” said Allen, a native of Conway, Ark. “Without these men and women serving our country, I wouldn’t have the freedom to play music for a living. To be able to come here and play for them; it’s the least I can do.”
Prior to the parade, the 316th ESC soldiers had the opportunity to meet with a few of the celebrities and take pictures and shake hands.
While they were happy to have them on-hand for a few minutes, the soldiers were quick to divert the attention back to those who served prior.
“This is all very cool and neat, but I wouldn’t have this opportunity if not for those who came prior,” said Spc. Carolos Martinez, 55th Sustainment Brigade. “It has evoked a lot of emotions that are hard to explain. I just want to honor them and this uniform the right way.”