The Daily Journal: Oconee County remembers its fallen 

WALHALLA — Residents and public officials gathered in front of the Oconee County Courthouse on Monday to honor the county’s fallen soldiers in the 2008 Oconee County Memorial Day Ceremony. Oconee County Veterans Council-sponsored event featured songs, presentations and readings from numerous organizations and individuals to commemorate soldiers from the Golden Corner who have given the ultimate sacrifice to the United States.

“That you took time from your holiday activities to be here today speaks highly of you,” Bill Butts, chairman of the veterans council, said to those in attendance.

Walhalla Mayor Randy Chastain made opening remarks, reminding the audience of the somber nature of the occasion. Many Americans, he said, do not fully grasp the meaning of the holiday and don’t realize that Memorial Day is not a time of celebration, it is a national day of mourning for those who gave their lives in service.

John Cobb of the Naval Reserve made a presentation in remembrance of American prisoners of war and those missing in action, draping a flag over an empty chair to symbolize the ongoing mission to find and return missing and imprisoned soldiers.

Elaine Wilson sang the national anthem and also concluded the ceremonies with a rendition of “God Bless America.”

Members of various posts of the American Legion, as well as members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Officers Association of America took part in a ceremonial wreath, flower and flag placement at Oconee’s war memorial to honor the fallen. Red, white and blue flowers were placed at the memorial that lists the names of the 210 men who have given their lives in combat around the world. A wreath and American flag were placed at the memorial as well.

Special floral arrangements were also presented at the memorial by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Seneca Foothills Elks Lodge and the Fleet Reserve Association Unit 15 Ladies Auxiliary.

Michael Lucas, superintendent of the School District of Oconee County, made a presentation at the ceremony, introducing winners of a countywide Memorial Day essay contest and having the first place winners read their pieces.

While Gina Sykes played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, Jerry Dyar of Oconee County Veterans Affairs recognized the families of the 210 men listed on the memorial wall, asking them to stand and be applauded.

Dyar emphasized the importance of the Memorial Day ceremonies, saying a country must always remember those who put their lives on the line to maintain the liberties the people of this country and this county enjoy today.

“We’ll never forget the heroes of Oconee County,” Dyar said.

Local representatives at the state government level, Bill Sandifer, Bill Whitmire and Thomas Alexander attended the event. Alexander echoed Dyar’s sentiments.

“Our Memorial Day ceremony is a great tribute to those who lost their lives while giving the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedom we often take for granted,” Alexander said.

Immediately after the official ceremony, a flag dedication occurred behind the courthouse at Patriot’s Hall, the Oconee County war museum. Jay Seiler, owner of Peez N Carrots Country Décor & Flag Shoppe in Walhalla, donated a “Flag For The Fallen,” in honor of soldiers who have been killed in the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seiler will be selling the memorial flag at his store in an effort to raise money to help establish and maintain hometown memorials to the men and women who died in the war on terror. The movement was started by Gregg Garvey, who lost his son in Iraq. The idea, Seiler said, is to create a monument in every hometown of those who have fallen in those wars.

“All proceeds from the flag sales will be going to this project,” Seiler said. “We’d like to set up memorials in every hometown of those who have given their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not about money. This is about a dad’s vision to honor his son and everyone who have lost their lives in the war against terrorism.”

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