Honoring the fallen: GF pays tribute to lost sons

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Flags fluttered under overcast skies as the Memorial Day service was held on the Green Forest square. All those who gave their lives for their country were remembered, but especially those from Green Forest. The half-hour remembrance was somber but upbeat as more than 30 people attended. (Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News)

Memorial Day feels more personal in Green Forest than in some other places, retired Army Maj. Gary Norris said Monday, because the community has felt the grief and pain of wartime loss in recent years.

Speaking at a Memorial Day service on the Green Forest square, Norris mentioned the deaths of 2nd Lt. Michael Goins of the U.S. Army in August 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Senior Chief Petty Officer Tommy Ratzlaff of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 in August 2011 during Operation Enduring Freedom.

"It's closer to home here when we think about these people who gave their lives. We've all felt this loss in one way or another, some of us more than others," Norris said.

He asked the families of Goins and Ratzlaff to stand and be recognized.

Norris asked the crowd to carry their remembrance one step further by visiting a local cemetery and seeing the graves of veterans marked with U.S. flags.

"Remember that our freedoms are not free. They have been bought and paid for," he said.

The city of Green Forest partnered with the Jordan Davis American Legion post to hold the Memorial Day service.

Josh Reed, of the Arkansas National Guard, posted the U.S. flag, and Henry Santizo, a Green Forest police officer, posted the Arkansas flag. An empty chair sat in front of the podium, honoring prisoners of war and soldiers who are missing in action.

Norris spoke about the history of Memorial Day. The tradition began in 1868, he said, as a day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Norris said it was known as Decoration Day and was a day for laying flowers on graves and honoring fallen soldiers.

In the late 1800s, different Union and Confederate traditions merged together in the effort, he said, and during World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate all American military personnel who died in all wars and conflicts. Norris said after World War II the holiday became known as Memorial Day.

"Growing up in the 1950s in Green Forest, I remember going to cemeteries to decorate graves and lay flowers. In those days, families had to maintain their plots," he said.

Norris said the real purpose of Memorial Day has remained the same as when it was first established. The day is meant to honor and remember all men and women who gave their lives in service to the United States, he said.

Norris said that 1.3 million men and women have sacrificed their lives for the United States in the wars and conflicts since the nation's founding.

"We understand and acknowledge that these numbers are much more than nameless heroes who gave their lives to the cause of liberty," he said.

Mayor Charlie Reece, a U.S. Navy veteran who worked for the CIA at the U.S. Embassy Annex in Saigon during the Vietnam War, also addressed the crowd on the importance of Memorial Day.

"It is a day that we all need to cherish, even though many of us have lost loved ones," he said. "The loss of our local men is a disaster for these families, but they will never forget or regret that their songs gave their lives for our country. I cannot imagine than knock on the door."

Reece said that everyone who joins the service has taken an oath to defend the United States and that the commitment to this oath and their brothers and sisters in arms is what enables them to face life-or-death decisions for their country.

"This oath exemplifies why soldiers do what they do each and every day. They are defenders of the principles that make this country great," he said.

Reece shared a story about one of his experiences during the Vietnam War. He had become close friends with a young first lieutenant, he said, and they often ate lunch together at the base. Reece said the soldier was getting engaged to a girl in Houston and made plans with Reece to discuss the news later.

"He asked if I would like to come on patrol with him that night, but I could not because of a meeting," he said. "He never returned. He was killed in an ambush outside Saigon."

Reece continued, "Not coming home could happen to any of us. I was lucky. Memorial Day serves as a celebration in memory of all those who have fought and defended our right to freedom, some with their lives."

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