- Excerpt from a poem by veteran Jim Ross
Several hundred people gathered on Monday in Greenlawn Cemetery after the Memorial Day parade.
In the shade of the old trees at the Soldiers Circle, traditional memorial ceremonies honored the fallen heroes of every war.
Capt. Bruce Eckhart of the Salvation Army read the poem “Come Visit My Grave” during the invocation - a poem written by veteran Jim Ross.
After the Portsmouth High School Band played the “Star Spangled Banner,” James Saddler, master of ceremonies, introduced the Grand Marshall of the parade, John Locher, who has two purple hearts and a combat infantry badge from the Vietnam War.
The guest speaker for the event was Wendell Skinner, who served in the 195th Assault Helicopter Company, Special Forces Group in the 51st Infantry in Vietnam.
“The 195th was one of the most decorated helicopter companies during the Vietnam War,” Saddler said, in introducing Skinner.
Skinner is a member and secretary of the Veteran's Service Commission in Portsmouth and he is commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
“When I'm asked to speak at any military-type function, I always mention my dear friend who was killed in May of '69 in Vietnam,” Skinner said. “His name is Clyde Sandy Evans. The reason I mention Clyde is that I never want Clyde forgotten or the reason why he died forgotten.”
He and Evans were door gunners on a Huey when they were shot down over Vietnam and Skinner survived.
“I have a hard time to this day dealing with that,” Skinner said. “But that is part of God's plan for me and I accept that. ... Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance.”
He said that in the Revolutionary War, 55 soldiers' lives were lost per month, in World War II, 6,639 lives were lost per month, in the Korean War, 909 lives were lost per month, in Vietnam, 526 lives were lost per month and in Iraq, 57 lives are lost per month and that changes daily.
“You have never lived until you've almost died,” Skinner said. “And for those of us who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know.”
June Meade, of West Portsmouth, lead the placement of the floral tributes at the Soldiers Circle.
Two by two, the Ladies in White walked up to the memorial at the Soldiers Circle and presented wreaths in memory of veterans.
Stacy Heck read a poem she wrote about the tragedy of 9/11, “Only God Knows Why.”
The Portsmouth Fire Department lead a ceremony with a color guard - one speaker and three men who stood before a silver bell. Two of the men held gold-plated axes and the firefighter in the middle rang the bell.
“When a firefighter has died in the line of duty to pay the supreme sacrifice, it was the toll of the bell to announce the comrade's passing,” said Steve Aldridge.
Chris Lowrey rang the bell three times each to represent the end of the fallen comrade's duty, while Andy Zamer, Chris Thurman and Richard Pridemore stood at attention.
In a final tribute, the bagpipe player, Jerrod Hale, played “Amazing Grace” while the Honor Guards from American Legion Post No. 471, No. 23 and Voiture 443 40/8 gave a firing squad salute.
As the bagpipes faded away in the distance, Howard M. Crull, ex-POW, played “Taps,” ending the ceremony.
The Memorial Day program was in memory of Connie Bennett, past president of the Memorial Day Association, who died April 6.
PHYLLIS NOAH can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 234, or email@example.com.