VALDOSTA -- The humidity was high, but it didn't keep grateful Americans from honoring our nation's heroes at Sunset Hill Cemetery on Memorial Day.

It was a scene that was repeated across the nation and abroad, as Americans paused to remember and honor those have served this country with honor so that we can enjoy those freedoms taken for granted.

Phil Youngblood of American Legion Post 13 welcomed those from the local community who were present,t and although it was hot and humid, he reminded them that after all, "This is South Georgia." He urged everyone to take time after the ceremony to view the graves marked with the American flags that had been set out the day before by veterans groups and local Air Force ROTC cadets from Lowndes High School and Valdosta State University.

"Look at the flags; each one of these recognizes a great individual who has given his life for our country," Youngblood said. "Today we take a few moments and we honor each and everyone of them. They wore the uniform because they loved America."

Youngblood also reminded the crowd of how Pat Tillman walked away from a multi-million dollar NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to serve his country as an Army Ranger. Some people called him crazy, but Tillman didn't think so. Tillman's recent death in Afghanistan reminds us this has been a bloody year on our war on terrorism.

Every year a young group of airmen from the Moody Air Force Base Honor Guard come to help celebrate the Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery, but this year the Honor Guard was unable to be there, Youngblood said. These young men and women are doing what they are supposed to be doing by conducting a funeral for one of our lost heroes. Youngblood asked those present to take a moment and honor the Moody AFB Honor Guard. Also honored during the ceremony was World War II veteran Ormond Rolfe, whom Youngblood described as one of his personal heroes. Rolfe was asked to lead the ceremony in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mayor John Fretti said he'd been asked by many what his plans were for the Memorial Day weekend. He told them of the Memorial Day ceremony which he would be attending. "Over the years, the meaning of what Memorial Day stands for has unfortunately faded from the public," Fretti said. "What was once a solemn day of mourning, remembrance and honor to our departed loved ones has generated into a weekend of barbecues, shopping bargains and beach trips, while only a token mention of our honored dead is mentioned, if at all."

Fretti remembers when all businesses closed and towns held parades honoring the fallen that often ended in a local cemetery, and then, and only then, were Memorial Day speeches given. "For today we can gather here and remember those who have died serving our country," he said. "We can renew our pledges to aid the widows, the widowers and orphans of our fallen's service to our country and to aid the disabled veterans."

Rod Casey, chairman of the Lowndes County Commission, said these heroes made the ultimate sacrifice, and honoring their sacrifice reminds us of the cost of war. "But perhaps more importantly the price we must pay for peace," he said. "That freedom isn't an entitlement; it comes with a burden, it comes with a price. As we speak today, there is a new generation of defenders who have committed themselves to freedom. They've been deployed to all four corners of the Earth in the war against terrorism. As we honor fallen patriots of the past, let us be inspired to equally acknowledge the heroes of today. We can't allow political persuasion or controversy to tarnish what they do for what has been done for freedom's sake."

Moody Air Force Base was identified as an integral part of the Valdosta community and Lowndes County. Representing Moody was Col. Dom DeFrancis, commander, 347th Medical Group. For generations, men and women in our armed forces have helped preserve the gift that many Americans take for granted, he said. DeFrancis recognized those "who stood ground with the spirits among us, I am especially grateful and humble to share this moment with you this morning," he said.

For as long as he can remember, DeFrancis remembered his father speaking about his young Uncle Bud, who was lost in a landing craft in the British Channel in the spring of 1944. "His remarks always carried sorrow and certain reverence reserved for few in his family," DeFrancis said. "Can the death of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from so long ago really carry so much emotion for us now? Well, for those of who care to remember, it's clear that they do." DeFrancis experienced it when he looked upon a sea of crosses and Stars of David above Omaha Beach at Normandy five years ago, and halfway around the world he felt it as he saw the names on the wall at the U.S.S Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

This Memorial Day is special due to the upcoming 60th D-Day Anniversary anniversary on June 6, said State Sen. Tim Golden, Dist. 8. Golden also made it clear that today's service members have met the challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan which drew applause from the crowd. He also recognized the efforts of Commissioner Pete Wheeler, Department of Veterans Service who lobbied at the General Assembly in Atlanta. "Pete Wheeler has given his heart and soul to veterans across this state, and I was very proud when he came in and asked our subcommittee to increase our allocation of money to go to the World War II Monument to honor every Georgia veteran," Golden said. "I'm proud to report to you that the state of Georgia stepped up and made a large contribution to make the dedication of the World War II Monument a possibility and a reality on Saturday."

Closing his speech, Golden quoted his favorite combat general, George Patton, who said "Weapons don't win wars, men win wars."



To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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