Military dead praised for their sacrifices

Published 8:36 am Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Veterans of all the U.S. armed services were honored Saturday morning, at the annual “Wreaths Across America” event.

Ceremonies took place at both Bogalusa Cemetery and Ponemah Cemetery, as a part of the national campaign to honor veterans by adorning all veterans’ gravesites with Christmas wreaths. Last year, more than 700,000 wreaths were laid in honor of veterans in 1,000 different cemeteries, including Arlington National Cemetery.

Ceremonial wreaths were laid at both local cemeteries to remember all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who served.

At Ponemah, Magic City American Legion Post 24 hosted the ceremony, which had a special focus on Vietnam War veterans.

Post vice commander Mike Henley said that Saturday’s events demonstrated the ultimate sacrifice that many Americans have made throughout history.

“The freedoms that we enjoy today have not come without a price,” Henley said. “Lying before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear.

“We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free, and we shall not forget you.”

The guest speaker at the Ponemah ceremony was Col. Walter Smith, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. Smith is a Vietnam veteran who had more than 30 years of service in the military, including time working at the Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Smith earned the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 26 air medals while serving in Vietnam.

“He often felt forgotten and wondered what in the world was the point of him being in a land where the natives spoke a language he couldn’t even understand,” Smith said, talking of his time in southeast Asia. “But he continued to do his duty to the best of his ability.”

Smith said that it is disappointing that so many Vietnam veterans returned home to citizens who detested them and their service. However, he noted that 87 percent of present Americans hold Vietnam veterans in high esteem.

“They chose to serve their country when called, rather than the many alternatives that were available,” Smith said. “Our Vietnam veterans asked for nothing in return, expect for the respect of their countrymen.”

Prior to Smith’s remarks, a special ceremonial wreath was laid in honor of Vietnam veterans. Following Smith’s speech, nine more wreaths were laid in honor of different branches and organizations of the military — the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, American Legion, Department of Defense, Veterans of Foreign Wars and POW/MIAs (prisoners of war/missing in action).