OVAL - In a whipping wind with a blue Nippenose Valley sky overhead, about 50 people gathered on Sunday afternoon at the cemetery here to remember those who have given their lives in military service.
"Share your hero's story - share their stories of sacrifice and triumph with others," keynote speaker Francis Hendricks asked those attending. "We will always be free because of the example they set and their willingness to step forward."
Hendricks, a retired Air Force brigadier general and Jersey Shore alum who will take over the presidency at Mansfield University on Tuesday, reminded his audience that there still are troops overseas who must be taken care of when they return home.
Air Force Brigadier Gen. Fran Hendricks, retired, speaks during the Oval Memorial Day ceremony at the Oval Cemetery on Sunday. The recently retired general will be sworn in as Mansfield University’s new president on Tuesday.
"There are troops continuing to serve in Afghanistan who are subject to some of the most serious injuries. We must recognize life may be sacrificed long after a wound occurs, and not all life-threatening injuries are visible. There are some who died on the streets because the country they served could not supply them with what they needed to live."
Whether their service was rendered yesterday or long ago, those who answered the call to arms remind us of "the cost of freedom," Hendricks said.
"When a revolution needed to be waged, and when a nation needed to be saved, common men took up arms and fought for freedom. Their stories may be separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles, but this is a time we come together as Americans to pray and reflect on the sacrifices of these heroes."
Hendricks told the stories of two servicemen recently and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor: Cpl. Jason Dunham, who died of injuries sustained when he covered a grenade with his body in Iraq in 2004, and Chaplain Emil Kapaun, who died in a prison camp in Korea after staying behind to minister to wounded troops after an evacuation order in November 1950.
The general closed his remarks with a version of the toast attributed to Commodore Stephen Decatur: "My country, may she always be right. My country, right or wrong."
Hendricks then presented an honorary coin for outstanding service from the Army and Air Force Exchange, the service retailer that he oversaw for five years, to John and Sally Guisewhite, who organized the Nippenose Valley program.
"What you have done the last couple years honoring veterans in this valley is very impressive," Hendricks said.
Sally Guisewhite read a roll call of veterans interred in Limestone, Oval and St. Peter's cemeteries, from the Civil War until today, as well as local servicemen who were buried at sea or abroad.
The service closed with a salute to services medley and taps, played by the Fairplay Brass.