Naval Support Activity Bethesda’s (NSAB) Department of Pastoral Care hosted a Memorial Day Remembrance Ceremony May 21 in the Memorial Auditorium at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC).
The ceremony served to pay tribute to service members who fought and died in defense of our country, said NSAB Commanding Officer Capt. David A. Bitonti.
“Let us together honor those who have gone before us in service to our nation and also remember the sacrifices that they and their families have made,” Bitonti said. “We must always remember the meaning of Memorial Day. Please keep all of those service members currently deployed and in harm’s way and their families in your thoughts and prayers, and especially, remember and pray for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom and democracy around the world.”
Col. Robert Powers, Jr., chief of the WRNMMC department of pastoral care, served as the guest speaker for the event. Powers spoke of relatives who served in the armed forces, including his great-grandfather, 1st Sgt. Noah Cartwright Burgess, A Co., 56th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. Although he didn’t die in battle, Burgess was held in a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War and allegedly walked barefoot from New York state to his home in North Carolina when the conflict ended.
On duty at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Powers could see the Pentagon burning from his third floor office window. As a chaplain, Powers said over the course of the last 12 years, he has been to more memorial services than he can remember.
“I’d have to get a calendar out and be intentional in counting out the memorial services I’ve been to these past 12 years,” Powers said. “At the height of the war, I was going to three or four memorial services a week.”
One memorial service he recalls distinctly because the service member, an Army specialist killed by a rocket propelled grenade, was born just two days after Powers’ first son.
“There’s no way having been in the military service over the past 10 or 15 years, that you can’t remember someone who has given their life for their country,” Powers said. “As we remember the who and the how and the where, I would like to remind you of the why. These people died ultimately defending the Constitution of the United States of America.”
The document that established Memorial Day as a nationwide observance, General Order No. 11, was written by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan in 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. It designated May 30 as the date every year “for the purpose of strewing flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country.” Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May in 1968 as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, making it part of a three-day weekend. Religious Program Specialist 2nd Class John Leitzinger said this is precisely why NSAB organized the remembrance ceremony.
“It seemed like it was easier for people to just brush it off since it’s part of a three-day weekend,” Leitzinger said. “People don’t remember to remember. So we wanted to get together and take a moment for the people who gave their lives.”
Powers agreed and said everyone should remember why Memorial Day is celebrated.
“It’s to honor the memory of those who have gone on, to comfort survivors who remain and to look forward to the purpose of the future,” he said.