By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
A group of Portales residents assembled in the bright sun at the Portales Cemetery Monday to remember the country’s fallen soldiers with a Memorial Day ceremony sponsored by American Legion Post 31.
With the lawn before them displaying white crosses representing the dead from each war America has been involved in, the crowd watched as an Honor Guard from Cannon Air Force Base posted the colors and Donald Paschke sang the national anthem to start the 60-year Portales tradition.
Don Criss gave the Memorial Day reading with selections from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the World War I poem “Flanders Field.” He also told of how Memorial Day, previously known as Decoration Day, began during the Civil War.
Joe Blair, Commander of the American Legion Post #31 then introduced Command Chief Master Sgt. Ray M. Clark of the 27th Fighter Wing at CAFB as guest speaker.
Clark told the group that since patriots began fighting for and defending this country in 1775 more than a million have died in service to the country.
He asked the crowd to visualize cemeteries across the nation and fix the image of white crosses in Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries in their minds. He then asked them to remember that behind each of those crosses and headstones “there is a family.”
“The tragedy of war is that it consumes our most precious resource to preserve our freedom,” Clark said. “No town of any size is spared the loss.”
Clark went on to talk about the sacrifices made by the men of the New Mexico National Guard who took part in the Bataan Death March early in World War II. He also noted how America was stirred to action again after the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Every life lost is a tragedy,” Clark said. “Every Memorial Day we struggle with the reason why.”
The ceremony also honored the only two living Gold Star Mothers in Roosevelt County, Myrtie Smith and Lila Bryant. Gold Star Mothers are women who have lost a son on the battlefield.
“This brings back a lot of memories,” Smith said, brushing away a tear.
Her son, Lloyd E. Smith was killed in Vietnam in 1967 as his unit of the Army’s 173rd Airborne was making a jump into enemy territory.
Smith said her son had been in Vietnam less than two months when he died.
“When they go into the service they know what they’re facing,” Smith said, when asked to reflect on the sons of mothers in the service now.
Alice Griffith, whose brother Harry G. Dyer was the first Roosevelt County resident killed in Vietnam, agreed with Smith about the reasons for service, saying her father, a World War I veteran had instilled the ethic of service into his children.
“He went with a strong back, a high head and lots of pride,” Griffith said of her brother. “I have a hard time understanding why people aren’t more patriotic.”
Bryant said she was proud to be honored but sad that her son had died.
“I think it’s necessary, but I think we need to get behind them more.”
Bryant’s son Jerry Bryant, a Marine, died in Vietnam.
Following the American Legion presentation the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #9515 held a brief ceremony of its own. Notable participants in that ceremony were members of the VFW Post’s Ladies’ Auxiliary which was re-chartered in March of this year with 23 members. Since that time membership has grown to 40, according to the auxiliary’s president Carol Woods.