'We remember today the cost of it all': Veterans remembered in Memorial Day observance

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — An estimated 300 people gathered under the shade of live oak trees and tents Monday morning at Beal Memorial Cemetery for a Memorial Day observance to remember those who have died in the service of their country.

The ceremony, held in the shadow of the cemetery's Veterans Tribute Tower, also provided the community with an opportunity to remember veterans of the nation's armed services who had died during the previous year, some of them long after their service to the country.

People place carnations on a wreath during Monday's Memorial Day observance at Beal Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach.

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"It is not an occasion for grief or mourning," Marine Corps veteran Dave Goetsch, a member of the Florida Veterans' Hall of Fame and one of the speakers at the ceremony, said of Memorial Day.

"It is a day for remembering, honoring and giving thanks," Goetsch said, and for honoring those who gave their lives in service to the United States by "pass(ing) down the stories of their sacrifices."

Monday's keynote speaker was Col. John Sannes, commander of the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base.

Col. John W. Sannes, commander of the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), was the keynote speaker during Monday's Memorial Day observance at Beal Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach.

Sannes called Memorial Day "a day of national awareness and solemn reverence."

Sannes reminded his audience that observances like the one at Beal Memorial were being conducted at the dozens of military cemeteries across the United States, at other cemeteries across the country, at cemeteries on foreign soil hosting U.S. war dead, and at overseas monuments to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Sannes added that there are going to continue to be additions to those numbers. Just recently, he said, names of five 7th Group soldiers were added to the Army Special Operations Command Memorial Wall at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

"The fallen are part of our heritage and will never be forgotten," he said.

Sannes also took time to speak about the community's — and the nation's — Gold Star families, who have lost loved ones in military service.

Three vintage T-6 Texan aircraft perform the missing man formation as they flew over Beal Memorial Cemetery during Monday's Memorial Day observance.

"America owes a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid to our Gold Star families," he said.

As part of Monday's observance, the names of veterans who had passed away since the last Memorial Day were read aloud. Sannes was joined by Tom Rice, an Army veteran and the driving force behind the construction of the Veterans Tribute Tower and its iconic bell, in reading the dozens of names.

Also reading names were Goetsch; retired Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Patt Maney; the Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of Gregg Chapel AME Church; Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, installation commander at Eglin; and Col. Jocelyn Schermerhorn, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field.

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Among the names read Monday was that of retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Leroy Manor of Shalimar, who died in February at the age of 100. Manor's distinguished military career included commanding the 1970 training of a task force to liberate American prisoners of war far inside enemy lines in Vietnam. The prison camp had been evacuated in advance of the raid, but its planning and execution proved that joint special operations forces could be used effectively. 

Also remembered was Bob Caron of Fort Walton Beach, who died just days before the ceremony in a traffic accident at the age of 88. An Army pilot, Caron also worked in Vietnam for the CIA's Air America. He is the pilot of the helicopter perched atop a building in Saigon in the iconic 1975 photo chronicling the evacuation of the city.

In his invocation, Williams distilled Memorial Day to its essence, telling those on hand for the ceremony that "we remember today the cost of it all, the great sacrifice for freedom."

Army Maj. Peter Hofman, in closing the observance with a benediction, urged the crowd to follow the example of those who gave their lives in service to the United States "and do all we can to promote justice and peace."