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By Tyler Flynn
A special Memorial Day observance was held at the National D-Day Memorial on Monday, May 28 in Bedford.
The ceremony, entitled “Remembering Their Sacrifice,” honored both current and fallen military personnel from throughout U.S. history who made sacrifices to ensure the nation’s freedom. The program also brought recognition to flight nurses who cared for the injured during World War II.
The service was opened with an invocation by Chaplain Major Mark Flores, USAFR, who prayed for a world that was one day shaped by peace, as well as asking God to provide “comfort for those who grieve for their lost loved ones.”
Members of the Marine Corps League, Rockbridge Patriots Detachment 1351, then presented and posted the colors, while members of the Bonsack Baptist Choir of Roanoke sang a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Robin E. Reed, president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, delivered the official welcome to the ceremony, praising the help the Memorial had received from local veterans and volunteers in orchestrating the event; he also encouraged attendees to return to the 68th D-Day Anniversary on June 6. Reed emphasized that the supporters of the Memorial had turned into a broad community because of social media, and read several of the positive responses the observance had received nationwide.
“Veterans fight not for what’s in front of them, but what they cherish that’s behind them. We honor those [veterans] who gave their lives and hold those that are still [with us] close to our hearts,” Reed said.
A Memorial Day Preamble was conducted by April Cheek-Messier, vice president for operations and education for the National D-Day Memorial Foundation. She acknowledged the casualties from all U.S. conflicts, specifically the 408,000 from World War II. She specifically focused on the flight nurses, and emphasized they were unrecognized heroes in the war.
“We’re here to honor special women who had firsthand experience with sacrifice. [Flight nurses] are part of a larger story from the war we don’t often hear — those who put their lives on the line to tend to the sick, wounded and dying,” Cheek-Messier said.
Cheek-Messier delivered a brief background on the guest of honor, 1st Lt. Evelyn “Chappy” Kowalchuk, a flight nurse who served with the 18th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron (MAETS) and evacuated wounded soldiers from Omaha Beach on D+3. Cheek-Messier dedicated a special narrative plaque commemorating the contribution of the 500 flight nurses to the war effort, which Kowalchuk received on their behalf.
Kowalchuk’s son, Peter A. Kowalchuk, delivered a dedicatory prayer, asking that “we may secure freedom’s cause, guard against indifference for our forefathers and provide [guidance] for bereaved families.”
Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt, praised the sacrifices made by servicemen and women, attributing their efforts to the Biblical commandment of friendship: “Greater love has no man than this — that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Hurt delivered a tribute to Kowalchuk, presenting her with an American flag that had flown at the nation’s Capitol.
“[This holiday] is the most important date on our calendar. Those that died for their families and country, for those that they didn’t even know— that is Memorial Day,” Hurt said. “We must take account of our blessings as a consequence of those who have gone before us.”
The choir then performed a patriotic medley of “Flanders Fields” and “Who Are the Brave,” which was followed by another brief presentation by Reed.
The Marine Corps then performed the laying of the wreaths and raised the American flags from half mast to full mast, overseen by Tom McCraw, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
The observance was concluded by the choir singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and a benediction conducted by Flores.
Response by the attendees to the ceremony was positive.
“[The observation] was a very nice tribute to the people who served. The flight nurses are truly the unsung heroes,” CMSgt. Charles A Maddox, Retired, said.
“There was a good turnout today — it’s good to see that people still remember an appreciate us [veterans],” Ed Culps, a retired member of the Marine Corps and a member of the Marine Corps League Color Guard, said.
An estimated 600 people were in attendance.
For more information about the National D-Day Memorial or the upcoming D-Day 68th anniversary commemoration, visit dday.org or call 540-586-3329.