Teaching the younger generation the importance of freedom and its price is a key reason to observe Memorial Day, said author and World War II veteran Paul Grassey as he gave an inspirational speech during Monday's Memorial Day celebration, held in the Averitt Center's Emma Kelly Theater.
The annual observance, hosted by the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90, drew a packed house as citizens enjoyed patriotic music, poetry and more.
Grassey, 91, who flew B-24 bombers in World War II, grew up in New Jersey. He joined the Air Corps - which was then part of the Army - in 1942 and became both a pilot and an officer before being commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to the 446th.
After the war, he graduated college and worked in sales management with the Burroughs Corporation and with a credit card processing company before moving to Savannah. He and his wife have lived there in The Landings for more than 25 years, and the spry senior retired in his late 80s.
Grassey was a founding member of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, serving on the board of trustees.
As he opened his speech Monday, Grassey told the crowd, mostly senior adults, that it is important "to get younger people interested in what America is all about."
Memorial Day is "celebrated so all generations understand the price of freedom," he continued. "No American death is too insignificant to remember when that life was lost ... in war."
Grassey spoke of the cost of freedom and said many younger people today fail to understand the sacrifice.
"Freedom is very expensive. We've known this for years," he said. "Now we have to teach the younger people. Can you imagine if they had the draft today?"
He also spoke of the important roles minorities and women had during wartime, recalling an African-American soldier who became a member of the Tuskeegee Airmen and died at age 22 and a female pilot he knew, who also died at age 22.
They gave "the ultimate sacrifice so that others could live and be free," he said. "We really have to understand what these people did."
Grassey penned a collection of war stories, "It's Character That Counts,'' about experiences he and his friends shared during World War II.
The Memorial Day celebration was sponsored by the Averitt Center for the Arts, Awards South, the Bulloch County Historical Society, Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home, McAlister's Deli and Vandy's.
Several area veterans participated in the ceremony by intoning names of fallen soldiers, reciting poetry and making brief speeches.
The remembrance was led by Dan Foglio, past commander of the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90. During his welcoming speech, he said: "To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost ... is not the worst that can happen. To be forgotten is the worst thing that can happen."