The U.S. armed services are not a distant force in faraway lands, military leaders reminded more than 200 civilians, veterans and services members Monday at Beaufort National Cemetery.
Under the cemetery's mossy oaks and among the hundreds of service members already buried there, the current and former military leaders urged those gathered to consider their own connections to the military -- friends, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.
Although it seems fewer people have such direct links today, it is more important than ever to remember those who give everything in the nation's defense, according to Col. Daniel Haas, commander of the Recruit Training Regiment at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
"Your presence today shows you have not forgotten the reason for this very somber day," Haas said to a silent crowd. "Those lost in war were not lost just to a family and to friends, but to a nation. Thank you for taking action to preserve their memory this day."
Those wishing to honor service members also gathered at Shelter Cove Veterans' Memorial Park on Hilton Head Island and in Sun City Hilton Head earlier Monday.
The Hilton Head Island Council of the Navy League of the United States welcomed visitors and guest speaker Col. William Lieblein, commanding officer of the Marine Air Group at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The Sun City Veterans Association Memorial Day event featured guest speaker Rear Admiral John R. Haley, the director of global operations from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska
In Beaufort, hundreds lined Boundary Street to commemorate U.S. veterans in the Beaufort Memorial Day Parade. More than 50 Patriot Guard Riders from Charleston and Savannah participated in the parade with their roaring motorcycles and at the ceremony in the cemetery.
The parade also included bands from local high schools, area veterans groups and those stationed at the county's three military installations.
Of the solemn service members marching by, only the two smallest members of the Parris Island Young Marines broke formation, eagerly handing out candy to children lining the road before sprinting back to the group.
The Memorial Day Ceremony that followed at the national cemetery featured an invocation by Chaplain William Holiman of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and a proclamation from Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville.
Beaufort native Brig. Gen. Kaffia Jones, commanding general of the 335th Signal Command in East Point, Ga., gave the ceremony's keynote address.
"We are here today because we respect the memory of those who committed to being something larger than themselves," Jones said. "And we not only remember those who gave their lives in defense of honor and liberty, but we also honor those still serving."
In the end, it is imperative everyone remember their service, she said.
"We don't always agree, but we need to learn to get along," said the Rev. Abraham Murray, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and master of ceremonies. "When we bleed, we all bleed red. I believe this country is still worth fighting for, and this country is still worth dying for."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.
Solemn ceremonies honor nation's fallen, May 27, 2013