Veterans, their families, elected officials, and Apopka residents gathered for the Memorial Day service held at Edgewood/Greenwood Cemetery on Monday morning. Under a clear blue sky and with the American flag waving in the wind, those in attendance remembered the men and women who laid down their lives for the country that they called home.
“When it comes to Memorial Day, we reflect on the lives lost on the battlefield,” Brian Fay, strategic director with Concerned Veterans for America, said. “…In the Battle of Kamdesh in a district of Afghanistan, or all those that lost their lives in the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of Iraq, or the mountains of Germany...”
Fay, an Army veteran, and keynote speaker, said that when cows see a storm, their instinct is to run away from it. Unfortunately for the cows, the thunder and lightning always catch up to them because they “can’t outrun the storm.” On the other hand, he said that when buffaloes spot a storm, they run straight into it.
“This ultimately brings them out on the other side faster, experiencing far less of the storm,” Fay said. “We’re here today to honor the people that are those buffaloes amongst us.”
Commander Andy Anderson opened the service by welcoming and thanking all the veterans who were able to be present for the service. He invited all Vietnam veterans to a Welcome Home Vietnam party at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in Apopka on August 5th.
“I don’t know if you got a good reception when you came home, but I know those of us from Vietnam, we didn’t,” Anderson said. “I want to say thank you for what you did.”
Anderson extended a helping hand to the veterans and said that if they ever needed anything, to come and see him at his post on the “corner of Fifth and Central.” He shared his phone number with all in attendance and said if they couldn’t find him at his post, they could always give him a call.
Chaplain Tim Trombitas, a U.S. Navy veteran, stepped up to the podium to give an invocation but first said that most of the people who fought in the military came from small towns. As a child, he said he remembers riding his patriotically-decorated bike alongside the Memorial Day parade in the small town he grew up in. He then took a moment to say a prayer.
“You hold in your hands both the living and the dead,” Trombitas said. “We come here today to honor and give thanks for all those, both young and old, who lay down their lives to serve and preserve this great nation for the freedoms that we enjoy today.”
Mayor Bryan Nelson followed after Trombitas’ prayer and said Apopka takes the “Memorial Day service serious” and thanked everyone for coming out. He recognized the dignitaries who were present, like City Commissioners Alexander Smith, Kyle Becker, Diane Velazquez, Nick Nesta, former City Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith, and County Commissioner Christine Moore.
Fay approached the microphone and gave a reverent speech about America’s armed forces and those who didn’t back down from the chaos of war. He was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2007 and 2014, first as a combined arms battalion scout and then as a combat medic. He paid homage to Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos and seven other U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the Battle of Kamdesh.
The Battle of Kamdesh occurred in the Kamdesh district of the Nuristan Province in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009. The U.S. Army established Combat Outpost Keating, where the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, and 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division were stationed. That morning 300 Taliban fighters assaulted and tried to overrun the outpost while 55 U.S. soldiers held off the enemy fighters. This became one of the deadliest battles of the war in Afghanistan.
“Eventually, reinforcements arrived, and the U.S. soldiers were able to drive the Taliban fighters away after 12 hours of smoke, fire, bullets; literal hell on earth,” Fay said. “Eight U.S. soldiers had been killed, 27 others wounded, but 150 dead Taliban fighters lay around them.”
Fay said Gallegos received the Distinguished Service Cross, and the other service members who fought in the battle were recipients of “two Medals of Honor, eight Silver Stars, 27 Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star of Valor, three Bronze Stars, and 37 Commendations with Valor.”
Fay said that Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, a Medal of Honor recipient who fought at Kamdesh, recognized that more than eight soldiers lost their lives as a result of the battle. Pvt. Ed Faulkner Jr., two time Purple Heart recipient, returned home from the Battle of Kamdesh with PTSD. “His physical wounds weren’t all he struggled with,” and he resorted to self-medicating with “Xanax and methadone” to relieve the trauma he suffered. In September of 2010, less than a year after the battle, Faulkner Jr. lost his life to a drug overdose.
“I would raise the challenge to also keep in mind the men and women who brought the war back home with them, where the emotional and physical levy was too much to bear,” Fay said. “They were also a casualty of war, and their sacrifice should not be forgotten.”
Alice Boria came to the stage and read the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written during WWI by Canadian surgeon Lt. Col. John D. McCrae. The poem recounts the red-flowered poppies that grew amongst graves in a farm field. The red poppy became a symbol of Memorial Day and fallen soldiers because of the significance of McCrae’s poem.
“In Flanders Fields, the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That marks our place. While in the Sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Unheard, amid the guns below,
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawns, saw sunsets glow;
Loved and were loved — but now we lie
In Flanders Field…”
Boria read a second poem named “The Answer,” by Lt. J. A. Armstrong from Wisconsin. The poem was written as a response to “In Flanders Fields.”
“…Sleep peacefully, for all is well.
Your flaming torch aloft we bear,
With burning heart, an oath we swear
To keep the faith to fight it through
To crush the foe or sleep with you
In Flanders Field”
The service came to an end, and veterans and family members visited the site of their loved one’s graves to pay their respects. On this day of remembrance, their final resting places were decorated with red, white, and blue, the colors that symbolize the freedom they lived and died to protect.