Honoring sacrifice: Legion Post 9 hosts Memorial Day ceremony
American Legion Post 9 Commander Mark Pepple was happy to see the post jam-packed on Monday for the annual Memorial Day ceremony, especially after the legion’s 2020 ceremony was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thankfully, we can have the ceremony this morning and we’re so glad you are here,” Pepple told the audience.
Memorial Day is all about remembering the sacrifice of those who lost their life serving our country, Pepple said. Pepple described what happens during an active-duty funeral, saying soldiers stand in a line and report in when their name is called.
“Then they call the name of the deceased and they call that name three times,” Pepple said. “When he doesn’t respond the third time, they start in with Taps. If you’ve never witnessed that, it’s a touching ceremony. It’s a great honor.”
Pepple introduced speaker Steve Marionneaux, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. Marionneaux served for 23 years — 12 active duty and 11 reserve — and was the commander of an engineering company in Germany from 1987 to 1988. Marionneaux thanked everyone for coming to the ceremony.
“There are a lot of places you can be this morning, but you’re here,” Marionneaux said.
Marionneaux said he worked on a speech for two days but tore it up the night before the ceremony. His first speech didn’t focus on what Memorial Day is about, Marionneaux said. He acknowledged all the veterans in the audience and said that his service has come to mean more as he’s gotten older.
“The one thing we cling to at the end of our days is our military service,” Marionneaux said. “I know there are people here who have lost a loved one in the military. Thank you for being here.”
Memorial Day is a day to talk about sacrifice, Marionneaux said.
“Today is a day where we recognize heroes. We’re in a country right now that sometimes seems to be confused about what real heroes are,” Marionneaux said. “I promised my wife I wouldn’t get political so I’m not going to, but I am going to get American and I know what an American hero is and you probably do, too.”
Marionneaux added, “We don’t have to look too far when we go looking for heroes. Some of them are right here today.”
Marionneaux said some people are confused about what really happens on Memorial Day. He spent 17 years teaching in middle school and high school, Marionneaux said, where he encouraged his students to be patriotic.
“One of my goals was to be able to, with middle schoolers and then with high schoolers, indoctrinate them to patriotism,” Marionneaux said.
Marionneaux said Memorial Day is a somber day for many, but it’s also a day to celebrate and honor those who gave their lives serving the country. Some died in combat training accidents, Marionneaux said, and some died in battle. Others died when they got home, Marionneaux said, and struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Today, we still lose soldiers who didn’t die in combat,” Marionneaux said. “As a country, we haven’t done a good job taking care of them.”
Marionneaux said 20 veterans die by suicide per day.
“It’s just unheard of,” Marionneaux said. “I salute them today, too. They didn’t necessarily die in combat, but what’s gotten them is from their experience in combat and I honor them today.”
Of the soldiers who died in combat, Marionneaux said,1,584 bodies have yet to be recovered. Marionneaux said 15 of those people are from Arkansas.
“That number’s down thanks to some efforts in recent years of going back to places like Vietnam and bringing back the remains that have been discovered, but still, that’s 1,584 people that we don’t know where they are,” Marionneaux said. “We’ve got men and some women at the bottom of the ocean in some places.”
Since the Revolutionary War, Marionneaux said, 1.1 million American soldiers have lost their lives during active duty. Sometimes they are transferred to their final resting place on a civilian aircraft, Marionneaux said.
“I still love the fact that when you see that and as their casket is removed from the airplane, the workers down below stand at attention,” Marionneaux said. “They honor that body coming through.”
Marionneaux said he’s always heartened when a veteran is thanked for their service. He recalled reading in the newspaper about a veteran who died without any family members, asking people to come to the funeral service.
“They put the word out and hundreds of people show up who don’t know this person,” Marionneaux said. “We have a great country. We’re off-kilter a little bit at times, but we have a great country.”
Marionneaux said he honors the American flag every day and challenged everyone else to do so.
“If you come across somebody who doesn’t honor that flag — as much as I hate to admit this — it is their right secured by our service that gives them the right to do that,” Marionneaux said. “I don’t agree, but it doesn’t matter. The people we are honoring today served so Americans can make such choices.”
Marionneaux said there are a few ways Americans can honor fallen soldiers.
“You can get involved in civic clubs and American Legions,” Marionneaux said. “There are lots of schools and churches that still honor our deceased veterans. Be all the American you can be.”