To Remember: Around 1,500 gather for Memorial Day service in Town Park
Among the things rolling into Madison Monday morning—dark clouds, thunder, and near 500 motorcycles.
A Memorial Day tradition, the Ride for America, a police-escorted motorcycle ride that begins in Monroe and makes its way to Madison, brought an additional roughly 800 to 1,000 people to Madison's Town Park for the city's annual Memorial Day ceremony, sponsored by Calvin George Post 37 of the American Legion.
Lights flashing and sirens blaring, cars from varying county sheriff's offices and the Georgia State Patrol led the ride, followed by Military Police Humvees, a makeshift train and hundreds of motorcycles. Guided by representatives of the City of Madison and local law enforcement, the motorcyclists parked their bikes and, row upon row, the line started at the Madison Artists Guild's cottage-corner of Town Park and stretched down one side of the park and around the corner, taking up two of the rectangular park's four sides.
Parked, the leather-clad drivers and their passengers joined the hundreds of local residents, many in varying forms of red, white and blue or military-oriented attire, already gathered in the park to pay homage to the nation's servicemen and servicewomen, both living and dead.
Around 1,500 people crowded the park.
Jessica Miller, the granddaughter of the late Gary Lemonds, original organizer of the Ride for America who passed away last year, sang the National Anthem as the Colorguard presented flags. Following a prayer by American Legion Post Commander Jim NeSmith, Madison Mayor Bruce Gilbert spoke of the sacrifice of military men and women.
"Our country did not become this wonderful place to live in by accident," Gilbert said.
He went on to quote General George S. Patton, "'It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.'"
The mayor encouraged those in attendance to send letters and care packages to troops or to donate to the USO as a sign of support.
Morgan County Commissioner Donald Harris spoke to the character of those who chose or choose to join the military.
"They [members of the U.S. military] have laid down their lives for people they have never met before... This is what makes them the best of America," Harris said.
Stan Mauldin, current Ride for America organizer, remembers a time when servicemen and servicewomen weren't publicly venerated like they are today.
"As a Vietnam vet, 12 years ago I marched up on those steps [of the Morgan County Courthouse], my heart was full," Mauldin said. "That was one of the first years I was recognized as a Vietnam vet."
Indeed, there was no shortage of reverence for the military men and women gathered, and for their service to this country. Following the laying of the wreath by Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Adcock, Army National Guard, "Taps" was played, as were the songs representing each branch of service.
But it was Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" that prompted the greatest response of the crowd. Local Boy Scouts distributed small American flags prior to the beginning of the ceremony and, instead of what seemed an appropriate place to break out a lighter, attendees held up their flags, began to wave in unison and sing.