On Memorial Day, the U.S. Navy Memorial (USNM) welcomed the collaborative efforts of Naval District Washington, The Fleet Reserve Association and Spirit of ‘45, an organization devoted to honoring the legacy of service of the men and women of America’s greatest generation in honoring the WWII sailors and marines during a wreath-laying ceremony held on the Memorial Plaza prior to the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC, May 28.
During his opening address Navy Memorial’s President and CEO Rear Admiral Frank Thorp IV, USN (Ret.), invited the audience to really think about the meaning of the day. “It’s about those of them who have given their lives for their country. It is a solemn day. It is a day that reflects this weather, a gloomy day. It’s not a day to say happy anything, it’s a day to reflect,” he said.
Thorp, recalling the origin of Memorial Day, noted, “It started out as Decoration Day more than 100 years ago, when women who wanted to recognize the lost of lives in the Civil War started decorating the graves of the men who had lost their lives,” Thorp said. “Through the years numerous Americans have lost their lives — 600,00 Americans died just in the Civil War alone; more than 116,000 in WWI; 417,000 in WWII; 58,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam; and 36,516 lost their lives in Korea,” he said. “More than 7,000 people died in the Middle East in the last 25 years and countless other Americans through smaller conflicts, terrorist acts or crisis around the world the United States has responded to ... Ladies and gentleman that’s what today is about. It’s about those of them who have given their lives for their country.”
During the ceremony, Thorp applauded the Spirit of ‘45’s non-profit organization support for adding a human element for visitors to experience as several placards of WWII faces and names held by Girl Scout of Nations Capital members, students and other volunteers surrounding the Plaza. Approximately 200 volunteers supported the touching visual.
“The placards added a real human touch to the men and women who gave their life for this country,” Thorp said. “We have WWII veterans with us today, Korean War veterans, Vietnam War veterans and our most recent conflicts in the Middle East. For those of you who are here today to honor them, I say thank you and welcome to the Navy Memorial,” Thorp said.
Madeleine LeBeu Spirit of ‘45 National Youth coordinator addressed the audience contemplating on thoughts that Memorial Day as a solemn day of reflection and commemoration of sacrifice. Today is also a day of joy and perhaps most of all gratitude and appreciation. Me and my entire generation are thankful,” LeBeu, a 16-year-old Girl Scout Gold Award recipient said.
“We are grateful to everyone of the great men and women who have given their lives defending our country. As we near the 75th Anniversary of the end of WWII, we are grateful for the greatest generation who survived the Great Depression and then helped to save the world by winning WWII,” LeBeu said.
LeBeu also thanked each service branch for their selfless sacrifice through various conflicts around the world. “It’s good and it’s essential that we are grateful for these courageous men and women and all of their families’ sacrifice. We have to learn from their experiences, values, accomplishments and take them to make this world, our world today a better place,” LeBeu said. “I’ve always had a really deep connection with our veterans. For my Girl Scout Gold Star Award project I created a project entitled I Witnessed, I Remember, now a non-profit organization, which works on preserving the story of the people who fought though WWII and making it accessible to teenagers my age,” LeBeu, 16-year-old said.
Guest speaker Force Master Chief Tom Snee, USN (Ret.), National Executive Director of the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), noted that more than three decades in the FRA has been a part of the Navy Memorial’s Memorial Day expression to say thank you to our fallen.
“Armed Forces Day is for those who are currently wearing the uniform, Veterans Day is for those who used to wear the uniform. However today, Memorial Day is for those who never made it out of their uniform in the fighting for this great nation, it’s values and who continue to do so even as we speak today to maintain and preserve the freedoms that we enjoy forever,” Snee said.
“I’m always honored to speak on behalf of the Navy, but it’s particularly humbling today to stand here in uniform and about the many American heroes we honor on this special day,” Rear Admiral Charles “Chip” Rock Naval District Washington commander, said. Rock thanked Navy Memorial leadership for its continued efforts to commemorate the men and women of the sea services regularly. “As a sailor, I don’t think there’s a more fitting place to be today,” Rock said.
Rock continued lauding his accompanying official party of Force Master Chief Tom Snee, USN (Ret.) and Madeleine LeBeu Spirit of ‘45 National Youth coordinator for honoring America’s greatest generation. “In this great nation of ours we do a wonderful job of building physical monuments. The Vietnam War, WWII, Korean, 911 Memorial at the Pentagon, our own Navy Memorial, which are all solid simple symbols of our nation’s desire to commemorate the fallen,” Rock said. “At this hollowed places we see and can even trace with our fingertips the names of those that have given their lives in defense of our country. Memorial Day is a single day during which we honor the spirit of those that died in service to our nation. Instead of seeing a stone monument on this special day we see the faces of all of those over the years who have sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom.”
Also in attendance among the recognized guests were Elinor Otto, America’s longest working ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ who picked up a riveting gun in WWII, joining the wave of women taking what had been men’s jobs and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Steven S. Giordano.
The wreath laying ceremony concluded with the U.S. Navy Band playing Taps as a ceremonial Guardsman handed carnations to the official party to place on three separate wreaths in honor of service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Upon conclusion of the event, attendees received the opportunity to place a carnation on a ceremonial wreath in memory of a service member lost.