Community gathers to honor, remember fallen soldiers

Chelsea Davis

Residents of Perry closed their businesses and stood at the end of their driveways, quietly remembering the short life of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Davis, who was killed May 7 in southern Afghanistan.

“It was an outpouring of support I’ve never seen before,” said First Sgt. Brandon Eckardt. “The entire town stopped their day, stood at the end of their drives and closed their businesses. They were standing shoulder to shoulder as we came off Highway 41.”

Monday morning’s Memorial Day events began with a parade from City Hall to the Ames Municipal Cemetery. The ceremony then began with an invocation from Chaplain Judy Hemstock, and the laying of the wreaths.

Sandy Deacon, member of Ladies Auxiliary, presented a patriotic reading, a poem recognizing the sacrifices soldiers have made throughout history.

“The bottom line is that freedom isn’t free,” Deacon said.

Eckardt has served in Korea, Thailand, Somalia, Haiti, Yemen and Iraq.  He is married and has one daughter. He spoke of the sacrifices American soldiers have made throughout history and of the day’s theme, “lest we forget.”

“Lest we forget seems to be a fairly simple concept, and I had many ideas when preparing this speech,” Eckardt said. “But May 7 altered my view of the phrase. That morning was going pretty much as expected when at 8:50 a.m. I realized it was not going to go as planned. I received a call saying Davis had been killed.”

Eckardt’s next job was to tell Davis’ parents of their son’s death.

“No one covets this assignment,” Eckardt said. “Nothing prepares you for that walk you take.”

But Eckardt said even in the direst of circumstances, Davis’ family handled everything with grace.

“The phrase evolved in meaning once more. The true stakeholders are the families who comprise the quiet minority,” Eckardt said. “We can’t forget the families. There are those like the Davis family who never have the luxury of moving on. That folded flag in their home is a constant reminder.”

After speaking with the father, Eckardt found out Joshua’s 17-year-old brother Joe also wants to be a machine gunner, the exact position Joshua held in Afghanistan.

“I doubt it’s what the father wanted to hear from his only remaining son, but it proves what type of man and patriot this country can produce. Lest we forget those who will answer the country’s call in the future,” Eckardt said.

After Eckardt’s speech, a list of veterans who have died since last year was read, followed by the American Legion Firing Squad salute to the dead: firing three shots into the sky.

“Taps” was then played by three trumpets, Jim DeHoet sang the national anthem and a benediction was read by Hemstock.

Eckardt said a new meaning of “lest we forget” is that the nation can’t simply refuse to forget past soldiers, but has to refuse to forget the future generations fighting.

“Semper fidelis,” Eckardt said. “Always faithful.”