2015 Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Memorial Day Ceremony
This year, instead of highlighting great sales like I have in the past during Memorial Day weekend, I really wanted to pay tribute to the service men and women that we remember, and appreciate the ultimate sacrifice they gave our company. You can learn more about those sacrifices over the past US War’s here where I write about medical advances that also occurred during those wars and after.
It was actually very hard to find information about Memorial Day services but I was excited after much combing to find one at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery at 0930. I dragged my husband and daughter who were tired from a long weekend and we arrived with many others pouring into the cemetery at Fort Sam. I had gone to high school there and was nostalgic as I remembered the week before Memorial Day, during school, placing flags at each grave site, over 140,000 of veterans and their spouses. There was probably a crowd of a couple hundred people, some in military dress uniform, some in BDUs (battle dress uniform), and many in civilian dress. We parked along the cemetery and started walking along the road past rows and rows of marble grave markers. Near the back of the cemetery were more freshly buried sites, huge sections with graves from 2000 to present.
It was very humbling when the Army officer in his dress uniform, walking in front of us, made a bee-line to a familiar grave, paused, and silently saluted his comrade before crouching to the ground. There were mothers and fathers hugging grandchildren, spouses sobbing next to headstones, and little kids comforting their parents as their parents probably told them about the person buried.
The sky was dark and ominous but stayed dry for most of the ceremony. The color guard presented the colors as everyone sang the National Anthem. Veteran volunteers silently moved between the masses offering cold water, programs, and seats. The master of ceremonies welcomed the distinguished guests including US Representative William Hurd and current Mayor Ivy Taylor.
Two Marines with Six Seconds
The guest speaker was Queta Marquez who is the Bexar County Veterans Service Officer and a retired Captain in the Marine Corps. She is an advocate for all veterans and their families and works as a member of the Military and Veteran Community Collaborative.
She talked briefly about her twenty years of service, understanding the sacrifices soldiers continue to make.
She told the following story:
Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.The mission orders they received from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “Okay you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.
A few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the alley way—perhaps 60-70 yards in length—and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically. Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it stopped.
Our experts reckoned the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.
The two Marines had about five seconds left to live. It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was half-way through the barriers and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were—some running right past the Marines. They had three seconds left to live.
For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.
The truck explodes. The camera goes blank.
Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty … into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight — for you.
Memorial Day Ceremony
It was pretty exciting to be able to share the ceremony in real-time on Periscope (currently a mobile app that allows you to stream video in real-time and for others to effortlessly watch along with you.) I had about 77 people who watched the stream, some in its entirety. Someone even sent love for our fallen soldiers from Ireland!
My program is water-logged as it started to rain heavily towards the end of the program but here’s a summary in case you’d like to go next year:
0900 Musical Prelude
0930 Open Ceremony
- Presentation of the Colors
- Star Spangled Banner
- Invocation (prayer)
- Reading of the Deceased Veterans’ Names (read by Cadet Battalion Commander @ Reagan High School JROTC — yay for being female!)
- National Moment of Remembrance
- Guest Speaker – Ms. Queta Marquez, Bexar County Veterans Service Officer
- Honors to the Military (see next section)
- Singing of America the Beautiful
- Three Volleys of Rifle Fire and “Taps”
- Closing Remarks (rushed for weather)
Branches of the Military Songs
It was really touching when each branch of the military’s song was played and the veterans, active duty soldiers, and their families would stand proudly and sing loudly. After the conclusion of each song, everyone would cheer loudly in the way unique to each branch. I included a link (tried to find the best link for each branch) if you’d like to learn more about the history of the song and the meaning behind it.
DID YOU KNOW?
When performed as part of a medley of Service songs, the following Department of Defense guidance applies:
The order of performance for Service songs is:
- Army: “The Army Goes Rolling Along”
- Marine Corps: “The Marine’s Hymn”
- Navy: “Anchors Aweigh”
- Air Force: “Official U.S. Air Force Song”
- Coast Guard: “Semper Paratus”
First to fight for the right,
And to build the Nation’s might,
And The Army Goes Rolling Along
Proud of all we have done,
Fighting till the battle’s won,
And the Army Goes Rolling Along.
Then it’s Hi! Hi! Hey!
The Army’s on its way.
Count off the cadence loud and strong (TWO! THREE!)
For where e’er we go,
You will always know
That The Army Goes Rolling Along.
From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
Anchors Aweigh, my boys,
Farewell to foreign shores,
We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night ashore,
Drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more.
Here’s wishing you a happy voyage home.
Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder
At ’em boys, Give ‘er the gun!
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under
Off with one helluva roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force!
We’re always ready for the call,
We place our trust in Thee.
Through surf and storm and howling gale,
High shall our purpose be.
“Semper Paratus” is our guide,
Our fame, our glory too.
To fight to save or fight and die,
Aye! Coast Guard we are for you!
Three Volley Salute of Rifle Fire
If you were looking at the stage, the riflemen were located to the left of the presentation and their fired their guns away from the area.
The 3-volley salute is a ceremonial act performed at military and police funerals as part of the drill and ceremony of the Honor Guard. It consists of a rifle party firing blank cartridges into the air three times. The custom originates from the European dynastic wars, where the fighting ceased so the dead and wounded could be removed. Then, three shots were fired into the air to signal that the battle could resume.
During this ceremony, the rifles were fired and as the smoke receded, the bugler started playing the song “Taps”.
Although for most of my Army brat life we did not live on military base, I was on base for many Taps bugle calls. This song is normally played as the day’s last call of the day — same time every day. I have fond memories of riding with my dad, the bugle sounding the song, and everyone stopping their car (or if they were walking, standing still), getting out of the car, and my dad saluting in the direction of an unseen flag and bugler. My dad always stood proudly at attention, no matter how tired. We never talked, it was always a very respectful time.
When taps is played during military funerals, military members will render a salute from the beginning until the conclusion of the song. Civilians should place their right hand over their heart during this time.
A Little Bit More about the National Cemetery Association and Burial Benefits
It probably sounds a little morbid in hindsight, but my dad has always talked about how he’ll be buried there. Entry into a slot requires sacrifices for one’s country, ones not everyone gives. He like all other veterans have the option for Burial benefits including a grave site in one of 131 national cemeteries with available space, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a Government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. Learn everything about the program here.
Visiting the National Cemeteries can be overwhelming. If you are looking for a particular grave site you can find them through this tracker. Search for burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker.