The Fort Belvoir community gathered last week to honor the nation’s fallen Service members, at a Memorial Day observance on Long Parade Field.
Col. Michael Greenberg, Fort Belvoir Garrison commander, spoke, quoting President Franklin Roosevelt, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy, forget in time, that men have died to win them.” Greenberg added he was thinking of his many friends, colleagues and co-workers he’s lost since being a Soldier.
“Since 9/11, more than 6,700 American Service members have died in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Because of this, Memorial Day is so important, not only to the military community, but to the nation, as a whole,” Greenberg said.
“For as long as the United States has existed, American Service members have fought bravely, when called upon by their country,” the commander said. “The willingness of America’s Service members to sacrifice for our country has earned them, and their families, our lasting appreciation and endless respect.”
Greenberg introduced the guest speaker, Brig. Gen. Joseph Berger III, commander of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency and chief judge for the Army’s Court of Criminal Appeals. USALSA is a mission partner on Belvoir.
History of selfless sacrifice
“Prior to being hanged by the British, during our nation’s fight for its independence, Nathan Hale is said to have famously uttered the phrase, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’ History may debate the accuracy of the quote, but the 189 streamers on our Army’s flag serve as an unquestionable testament to the enduring nature of the patriotism and valor of the American
Berger then thanked the crowd for commemorating Memorial Day, “… a day uniquely set aside for the sole purpose of remembering those who gave that one life for their country,” he said.
Speaking about the Soldiers attending the ceremony, he said, “You are a beacon of freedom in a dangerous world, and each of you carries the legacy of every Soldier.”
Berger suggested crowd members remind each generation of the sacrifices made by those who came before us and demonstrate our belief in selfless action for the greater good.
“Most importantly,” he said, “we must inspire each other to strive for the values that we hold dear; the values we are willing to fight for, and if necessary, to defend to our last breath.
“Generations of American’s have sacrificed their young -- and most of our fallen have been young -- to ensure ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’ Nearly 1.2 million Americans have died to that end. Many on battlefields a stone’s throw from here,” Berger said.
He then detailed the sacrifices of Sgt. William Jecelin from Baltimore, who gave his life in 1950 in Korea.
After heavy, intense enemy fire and many attacks, Jecelin rallied his men and stormed an enemy strongpoint, engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Afterward, when a camouflaged, enemy soldier threw a grenade at the remaining platoon members, Jecelin immediately covered the grenade with his body, absorbing the full force of the explosion to save those around him.
“This incredible courage and willingness to sacrifice himself for his comrades so imbued them with fury that they completely eliminated the enemy force,” Berger said. “Think about that … Sergeant Jecelin led, ultimately giving his life. And his sacrifice inspired greatness. What a legacy.”
Berger also spoke of legacy of Soldiers like Pfc. Ross McGinnis, a young Infantry Soldier who was killed in Iraq in December 2006. While manning an M2 .50-caliber machine gun, an insurgent’s fragmentation grenade fell through the gunner's hatch into the vehicle. Reacting quickly, McGinnis yelled "grenade," allowing all four members of his crew to prepare for the blast.
“Rather than leaping from the gunner's hatch to safety, Private McGinnis made the courageous decision to protect his crew,” Berger detailed. “In a selfless act of bravery, in which he was mortally wounded, Private McGinnis covered the live grenade, pinning it between his body and the vehicle, absorbing most of the explosion.
“We tell their stories as illustrations of what is possible within each of us. In doing so, we remember their sacrifice and we honor their determination and courage. We look within ourselves to find the same and to seek inspiration to face uncertainty and danger,” Berger said.
He added that May 17 marked the 12th anniversary of the loss of a young Army paralegal, Cpl. Coty Phelps, killed by an IED in Iraq at age 21.
The legacies live on
“I had the privilege to speak with one of the other Soldiers who was in that vehicle. She relayed how, every day, she tries to live up to the level of energy Coty brought to the team, how she sees Phelps’ infectious smile in her young Soldiers’ faces and sees his dedication to our Army’s mission in everything they do.” Berger recalled.
“We can show our thanks in both honoring their sacrifice and celebrating the freedoms it protected,” he said. “ … before we move into summer, kicking it off with a weekend of barbecues, let us get lost, if just for a moment, in 21-gun salutes and trumpets crying the mournful notes of Taps.
“It is in the service we perform every day that we honor and celebrate their enthusiasm and faith to our nation and their fellow countrymen and women,” said Berger.