Beaufort News

Speaker brings home Memorial Day's meaning

  • All around him Monday at Beaufort National Cemetery were signs of just how personal Memorial Day is to retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe "Chop Chop" Walker Jr.
  • They are etched in the grave markers of family members -- two uncles, a cousin, his mother and father -- buried there. Walker, who grew up in a house n the corner of Duke and Washington streets and attended Robert Smalls high school, delivered the keynote address during Memorial Day ceremonies at the cemetery. He told a crowd of about 800 that he remembered decorating the graves of fallen soldiers there many years ago.

    "At 10 years old, I did not know why we were decorating the graves, but now, a half a century later, I know why," Walker said. "I have a lot of history here. It is today, and everyday, that we should remember the sacrifice of all veterans who have served."

    The ceremony included a reading of Gen. John Logan's Memorial Day order and the Gettysburg Address, a memorial wreath-laying hosted by the Woman's Relief Corps and Daughters of War Veterans, and Walker's address.

    Walker, who now works as a defense contractor, said he earned the nickname "Chop Chop" -- friends said he resembled a "little guy" character in a "Blackhawk" comic book -- in the school yard long before his military service. The name stuck with him as he earned a degree in mathematics at S.C. State University and served two tours in the Vietnam War, he said.

    Walker said his family's story is not so different from the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have come before him. He told the crowd that he celebrated the holiday to honor all U.S. veterans and their families, and to rejoice in the "great deeds" of service men and women, including the recent killing of Osama bin Laden, a moment in his speech that was met with a standing ovation by attendees.

    Donald Owens, who helped organize the observance for the first time since becoming Beaufort National Cemetery's director about nine months ago, said the latest generation of veterans and active-duty service members deserve no less recognition than any others.

    "We owe them a debt -- an eternal debt," he said.

    Earlier in the day, Beaufort's Memorial Day parade wound through Boundary, Rodgers and Bay streets, which were lined with hundreds of spectators who watched school bands, church groups, military representatives and local officials pass by.

    Steve Illes, a member of the Marine Corps League and a representative if the regional Military Retiree Council, was among the parade-goers and memorial service attendees. Illes, who has attended the events for about nine years, said he was pleased with the turnout.

    "It's great to have hometown representation at the ceremony and wonderful to see all the residents come out every year to show their support," he said.