Taps was played. Flowers were thrown. American flags flew at half-staff, and the names of fallen troops were read. These were the outward sights and sounds of the Memorial Day ceremonies hundreds of Bartholomew County residents attended.
Inwardly, each person had a special reason for attending one or all of the ceremonies Monday at the Robert N. Stewart Bridge, Garland Brook Cemetery and the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans.
Shirley Suddeth, a member of VFW Post 1987 and American Legion Post 24, said she has been taking part in the memorial on the bridge for years. She has done so to pay tribute to all fallen soldiers, particularly her brother-in-law, who was taken prisoner and died during the Korean War.
Residents and veterans gathered at the bridge at 9 a.m. Wreaths were tossed into East Fork White River by auxiliaries of the American Legion and VFW. The Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard followed with a three-volley rifle salute.
Rick Caldwell, a U.S. Army veteran and commander of the state AMVETS organization, took part in the ceremony. He said it’s important to remember every year the freedoms Americans have and what was sacrificed to maintain those freedoms.
“We can never forget those who died for our freedoms. It’s terrible if you ever forget that,” he said. “There’s so many people that gave their lives.”
At 10 a.m., veterans and the families and friends of fallen soldiers gathered at Garland Brook Cemetery’s veterans section.
Caldwell spoke about the importance of Memorial Day, saying it is a unique day in memory of heroes.
“The most important thing I want everyone to remember is the fact that they were true American heroes because they made sure you have the freedom still today that started way back with the minuteman soldier,” he said. “It’s amazing how long our freedom has lasted, and we can never take it for granted.”
Some residents who never served in the military felt the need to remember those in the armed forces who died.
Justin Cox came to the cemetery with his son, Noah, to remember his grandfather, Martin Cox, who served and died in Vietnam. Cox said his grandfather was in the 9th Infantry Division at a base called Camp Bearcat, which was established in 1966. Once his grandfather died, the camp was renamed Camp Martin Cox.
“I come out here every year for dedication of that. He was a soldier (and) between the age of 36 and 38 years old. My mom was like 6 years old when he died. My son here, he’s 7, it kind of puts a big dent in our family history. I want to let him know that he had a great-grandpa that was lost in the Vietnam War,” Justin Cox said.
Services concluded at 11 a.m. at the Memorial for Veterans on the Bartholomew County courthouse lawn. The lawn was crowded with veterans, families and friends.
Zack Ellison, a member of the Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial Foundation, announced the names of two soldiers to be added to the memorial’s towering columns and read the list of the other 27 Vietnam dead already inscribed on the memorial.
U.S. Army Sgt. Gale William Dixon died in the Vietnam War in 1968 at the age of 25. Pfc. Billy Smith died in the Vietnam War in 1968 at 21.
The average age of the soldiers whose names are part of the memorial is 23. Four were 19 when they died.
The final memorial service also included a wreath dedication by the American Legion, the VFW Auxiliary Presidents, Daughters of the American Revolution and Gold Star mother Deborah Kleinschmidt. Her son, the late Marine Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, died in Afghanistan in 2010.
John Dodgen, who came to the service with his family, said he wanted to remember and thank all fallen veterans for their service to the country.
“This is just acknowledging that ultimate sacrifice and showing our kids why we’re living in a free country,” he said. “We go to the SALUTE! concert, or we do something to acknowledge those who have died for our country.”