Young and old marched, rode and drove to Culpeper National Cemetery Monday morning for the first Memorial Day public service since 2019.
Hundreds of patriotic Americans stood and sat in the historic cemetery to remember and honor the men and women who died in service to the country.
There were prayers, music, wiping away of tears and a strong sense of camaraderie among the many veterans gathered. Old Glory proudly waved as friends and families shook hands and remembered.
Fauquier resident Molly Brooks, whose late father served in Vietnam, gave a keynote address. She co-founded Hero’s Bridge, a Warrenton-based nonprofit that serves elderly veterans.
She witnessed the devastating effects of exposure to Agent Orange on her father, a Marine Corps veteran. Married to a Desert Army veteran, Brooks saw the unmet needs older veterans faced.
This led her to create the organization that provides practical and essential services to aging heroes, such as safe housing and access to healthcare, benefits and technology.
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Addressing the veterans, she said, “I know every day is Remembrance Day for you…I know you carry a list in your hearts and minds of the brothers you lost in battle.”
She added: ‘To all the Gold Star families present, today we all stand by your side to share your loss and your remembrance.
Brooks encouraged the public to remember those who survived battles but not war.
“These are the countless we lost later, after the fighting, to depression, post-traumatic stress, suicide, drug addiction and exposure to Agent Orange,” he said. she stated. “I say countless because literally our nation hasn’t counted them, but their families and loved ones do. They did not receive the support and treatment they deserved for their invisible wounds and the least we can do is recognize and honor them now.
The audience applauds in agreement.
Brooks wondered, what would veterans resting at Culpeper National say if we could hear their voices beyond the markers?
“Veterans, they would remind each of you to take care of your fellow veterans,” she said. “This is what you have been trained to do in combat and you must continue after your service.”
In fact, she added, they would tell families and communities to also care for and honor veterans.
As for what the public can do, Brooks had some suggestions.
“Thank you for your service” could be replaced by, tell me about your service. “Never forget” might mean remembering to ask an older vet if he needs anything from the store or a ride to church. ‘Welcome home’ could mean helping a veteran fix some things around their current home,” she said.
Throughout history, it’s always been wives, children, friends, pastors and others who have truly helped and loved veterans until they were whole again, Brooks said.
Those who went before would implore Americans not to let their sacrifices be wasted, to hold on to the freedom and democracy they fought and died for.
“The moment ‘we the people’ allow these to be cut … we risk devaluing their service,” Brooks said, citing issues the nation has faced for decades.
She called for compromise and resolution of issues that have been summoned in the past during such times. Brooks called for unity, not the division she said the media sews.
“Let us remind our elected officials that they work for us and we will not let down those who died for democracy and our freedoms,” she said.
Culpeper Cemetery Warden Jason Hogan, an Army veteran, welcomed a grateful audience able to gather again for Memorial Day after the two-year pandemic.
“It’s refreshing to see so many people gathered here today to recognize the supreme sacrifice of our military who gave their all,” he said.
The cost of war is impossible to calculate, said the director of the cemetery.
“We will never be able to repay families who have lost loved ones in the horrors of war. The least we can do is commemorate these heroes with solemn words by laying wreaths and pausing in silence to pray for their souls.
Memorial Day has long been the most important day of the year for national cemeteries, Hogan said, calling out his eight-member groundskeeping team.
“Throughout the pandemic, when so many people were working from home, these great patriots continued to come to work to ensure veterans were properly memorialized and buried in the most dignified manner possible,” he said. -he declares.
Nationally, about 73% of National Cemetery employees are veterans, Hogan said, the most of any federal government agency. Employees understand where they work, cemetery directors said, calling the burial site a national shrine.
Hogan encouraged the public to maintain their respect and gratitude for veterans beyond today by tuning in to va.gov/remember, Veterans Legacy Memorial website. The database contains the names and final resting places of all veterans interred in national cemeteries.
“We think this is the future of commemoration,” Hogan said. “It’s the least we can do for those who gave their lives to defend our nation and our way of life.”
In the distance, a bugler played taps to end the ceremony, both in the old section and in the new section of the cemetery. Various organizations laid wreaths in remembrance as the Culpeper County High School Band performed the anthem “Amazing Grace.”