Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

TOP STORY >>Base observes Memorial Day

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

In honor of Memorial Day, Little Rock Air Force Base airmen gathered Friday afternoon to remember their fellow servicemen who have made the ultimate sacrifice. More than 200 men and women of the 314th Airlift Wing took part in this time-honored military tradition to recognize those past and present who have been lost.

The names of Arkansans killed in the line of duty since last Memorial Day were read by the 314th AW Command Chief, Chief Master Sergeant Brooke McLean, including LRAFB’s own Staff Sgt. John T. Self, a member of the 314th Security Forces Squadron, who was killed May 14 in Baghdad by a roadside bomb.

A 21-gun salute resounded in the air after the reading of those killed. As Taps played, four C-130s flew over the ceremony; one plane dropped out of formation to signify the airmen and soldiers that never made it home while serving in the armed forces. As Ret. Col. William A. Kehler, base commander from July 1983 to April 1985 and guest speaker at the ceremony, said, “We honor those who have gone before…it’s because of them that this land is one of the free and the brave.”

“Our prayers go out to the family, friends and loved ones of those lost,” Kehler added. More than one million service members have been lost since the Revolutionary War. “You are our guardians of freedom and justice, of national security and are always willing to defend your country with your life,” Kehler told the airmen at The Rock.

“You never leave an airman behind, you never falter and you never fail – I salute you,” Kehler said in closing. Col. Rowayne Schatz, Jr., who took command of LRAFB one week ago, told airmen they were gathered to remember, honor and give thanks to their brothers in arms. “We honor the brave men and women of Arkansas who died this past year for their sacrifices in defense of the freedoms we hold so dear,” Schatz said.

“We are forever in their debt for putting themselves in harms way so we can live in peace,” he said.

“We can only show gratitude to the loved ones of those who died for a noble cause. Today we say ‘thank you’ and make sure they are never forgotten this day and every day,” Schatz said.

As the base honor guard lowered the American flag, those gathered stood at attention, watching the symbol that has carried the message of freedom, at home and abroad, for more than 200 years. “It flies in the heart of every Airman that serves this great nation,” Capt. Shannon Vinson, narrator for the ceremony, said of the American flag. “It stands for the freedoms we all share and for patriotism; it is a beacon of hope – long may it wave,” Vinson added.

Memorial Day, first known as Decoration Day, was established in 1868 as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.