Over a thousand Central Texans gathered on Monday to honor local men and women who lost their lives in service to the U.S. at the Georgetown-Williamson County Veterans Memorial in the Sun City Community Center.
At the memorial, the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division Band played for residents and veterans, with Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III attending the ceremony as a special guest.
He said while people may wish each other a “Happy Memorial Day,” to him, it doesn’t seem right.
"I’m not sure ‘happy’ is the right emotion to describe this day," Chandler said. "'Grateful,' 'sad,' 'sense of loss,' maybe, but I’m not sure 'happy' is the right one. I’m grateful.”
Chandler praised the Georgetown community for its patriotism and commended the troops for the sacrifice they made. He added, however, that the military needs to be held accountable, referencing recent sexual assault allegations at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
"These may be challenging times for our service. For the Army, we've got some things going on that we're not so proud of right now,” Chandler said. “We recognize that, we're holding ourselves accountable and we're going to make our Army even better than it already is. Because the American people demand that of us, we've taken an oath to the Constitution to make our Army good ... we owe each and every one of you more."
Local lawmakers and veterans placed wreaths at Memorial Wall and Army Chaplain James Shaw read the names of the ten servicemen from Williamson County who have died since 2003.
Marc Gardner and his wife, Ann Marie, attended the ceremony. They met when he was stationed overseas and she was on tour, performing for troops with the Washington Redskins cheerleaders. Marc Gardner says Memorial Day is always personal for him.
“I’m remembering individuals, I’m remembering people that I lost, places we were at, and the people I used to serve with," Gardner said.
Ann Marie Gardner said she was honored to visit various bases around the world. Most civilians don’t get a chance to see service members when they’re on active duty, she said.
“I grew up outside of Washington D.C. and most of what I knew of the military was guys on the Metro in a nice crisp uniform going to the Pentagon. And to go out to watch an 18-year-old kid, essentially, carrying 60 pounds of gear in 110 degree weather and thanking me for being there, I think about all those guys I met personally," Gardner said.
Veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan attended the ceremony. World War II veteran Mort Sheffloe was stationed in Normandy in 1944 as a 19-year-old.
"I've been back to Normandy eight times and it always inspires me to go to the Omaha Beach cemetery." Sheffloe said. "One can't walk through it without thinking of 10,000 or so men who are buried there."