Dr. Michael Braz began playing a medley-of-medleys of mostly patriotic-themed music on piano at 10:30 a.m., and by the start of the spoken portion of the Memorial Day service at 11 a.m., more than 150 people were seated in the Emma Kelly Theater.
American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 hosted the service with help from the Averitt Center for the Arts, lead corporate sponsor Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home and other sponsors. At the close the audience, by a more than decade-long tradition, stood and joined in singing "God Bless America" before the sounding of Taps.
So, keynote speaker Jane Durden was preaching to the choir in more senses than one when she began her remarks the way she did.
"It's an honor to be with you as you celebrate Memorial Day and that you know the true meaning of Memorial Day," Durden said. "Many think of this as just a long weekend when they can have picnics and go to the beach with family and friends, but we must remember why we have Memorial Day."
A native and resident of Swainsboro, Durden is a retired teacher whose accomplishments as a civic and historical organization leader derive from a longtime interest in genealogy and historic preservation.
"Freedom must be won, and once won, guarded," she said. "Our country has been involved in many wars since her birth. Thousands of our fathers and forefathers fought in these wars and many died. It is to these men and women who fought and did who did not come home victorious that we owe a day of remembrance."
Currently regent of the Gov. David Emanuel-Adam Brinson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Durden is a member of the National Gavel Society, the Georgia Salzburger Society and Daughters of American Colonists. She has served as governor general of both the First Families of Georgia and the Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims, as president general of Colonial and Antebellum Bench and Bar and as president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Kiwanis Club of Swainsboro.
While citing sources as far back as ancient Greece on patriotism and remembrance, Durden also shared a personal experience from several years ago.
She was on an airline flight arriving in Montgomery, Alabama, when she and other passengers heard an unexpected message from the pilot.
"He then said, 'Please bear with me as I deviate from the script, but I want you to know that simply by coincidence you have been granted both the privilege and the honor of escorting the body of PFC Howard Johnson Jr. home tonight. PFC Johnson was killed in Iraq defending the freedoms we all enjoy and fighting to extend those freedoms to the people of Iraq,'" Durden recalled.
The passengers remained seated as asked, and were silent as the soldier's casket was removed from the cargo hold. As Durden left the plane, she could see the hearse moving slowly away.
"It is up to us to see that their memory is kept alive, for truly a land without memory is a land without liberty," she said.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the American Legion, as Post 90 Commander Marvin Grimm noted in his welcoming remarks.
"May the ceremonies of today deepen our reverence for our departed friends and comrades," Grimm said. "Let us renew our pledge of loyalty to our country and its flag. Let us resolve by word and deed to emphasize the privilege and duty of patriotism. God, bless America."
Intoning the names
A solemn, central tradition is the intoning of names of Bulloch County residents who died in wars. Some years the listing has begun with World War I. This year Jimmie Alderman, an American Legion Post 90 member, was listed to do the honors for those who died in the American Civil War.
"It is usually our custom to intone the names of those who died during the particular war," Alderman said. "It's impossible in Bulloch County to do that. Out of some of the outfits, for instance, the Toombs Guards, out of a company there were 13 people left standing at Appomattox. You think that's bad? Out of the Cobb Guards, there were four people left standing, and this was repeated through all the units in Bulloch County."
Many of the Confederate dead were buried without markers on the battlefields or near hospitals, he said. Alderman noted that Arlington National Cemetery includes a Confederate area and monument. Much later, Bulloch County's memorial at the courthouse was erected for those who had no markers and for all who served, he said.
"So let's salute all of those who died, both North and South," Alderman said.
Post 90 veterans who recited the names of the dead from more recent wars were Hugh Waters for World War I, Carlos Brown for World War II in the Atlantic combat area, George Sterling for World War II in the Pacific, Grimm for the Korean War, Randy Brigman for the Vietnam War and Earl Anderson for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Family members and friends stood up when the names of their heroes were read.
Bob Marsh, Post 90 finance officer, served as master of ceremonies, picking up from Dan Foglio, who through 12 years was lead organizer and emcee of both the Memorial Day observance each May and the Veterans Day celebration each November. Foglio and his wife recently moved back to Pennsylvania, but he planned elements of Monday's service, asking Durden more than a year ago to be the speaker.
Marsh thanked the sponsors, which also include Vandy's, McAlister's Deli and Awards South.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.