Sevier Memorial Day program honors fallen soldiers
Dozens gathered at the courthouse Monday morning for a Memorial Day program that included speeches by Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters and Circuit Judge Rex Henry Ogle, as well as the traditional roll call of deceased Sevier County veterans.
"Memorial Day officially began during the Civil War when the loved ones of fallen Confederate soldiers were cleaning their grave sites and noticed that an adjoining Union cemetery was in disrepair, and they began to clean those grave sites knowing that somewhere they had relatives that were missing those folks and cared about them a great deal," Waters said to the crowd at the courthouse. "It's that kind of spirit that continues today."
The theme of Waters's speech was that veterans should be honored not just on Memorial Day.
"We need to honor them every day," hed said. "And I'm proud to say that here in Sevier County, we do that."
Waters urged those in attendance to make younger generations aware of the sacrifices made by veterans and those currently serving.
"The reason we have the freedoms we have today, the reason we are in this great country today, is because of that sacrifice," Waters said.
Ogle said he felt inadequate speaking to veterans about others who paid the ultimate price, "because I never had to do that."
"The Vietnam War ended some three months after I registered for the draft," Ogle said. "I had to watch as some friends and family came home from Vietnam, and of course, some did not."
Ogle discussed the area's cemeteries that are filled with graves of veterans and asked the crowd, "Why are we here today?"
"We're here to honor those that have sacrificed by recommitting – recommitting – to our memories the solemn ideals for which they stand for, and to rededicate our own lives to the daily preservation of the nation our warriors have died to protect," Ogle said. "To do any less dishonors their sacrifice."
The program included music by the Smoky Mountain Community Band, and a fly-over by the Warbirds of America, Tennessee Squadron, Rocky Top Flight.
The five service organizations of Sevier County — American Legion Post 104 in Sevierville, American Legion Post 202 in Gatlinburg, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10025, the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 94 and the Marine Corps League detachment 1206 — all participated variously in the program, along with Cub Scout Packs 110 and 535 and Boy Scout Troops 110 and 535.
A special ritual for veterans missing in action or killed in action was given by Bill Voight of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10025. For that ritual, two tables were set up, one dressed in black, one white.
The black table symbolized mourning, sacrifice. It was dedicated to the men and women who gave their lives for their country. A single lit candle on the table symbolized the eternal memory of those soldiers. A purple heart medal sat on the table to symbolize the constant ebb and flow of blood on the battlefield. The dog tags had no names, and the dinner plate was inverted.
"They cannot be here with us today to break bread," Whaley said. "They are here only in memory."
The white table symbolized "the purity to respond to the call," Whaley said. A single red rose symbolized the eternal faith the families have in their loved ones. A yellow ribbon wrapped around the vase recalls the ribbons seen around the country asking for appropriate response to those missing in action. A slice of lemon on the plate symbolized the soldiers' bitter fate, and the salt on the bread plate symbolized "the eternal tears that shed from the family for their loved one," Whaley said.
"The glass is inverted," he said. "They cannot be here with us today to toast."
The program culminated with the placing of the wreath and roll call of the deceased Sevier County veterans. Over 180 names were called.