By Tia Lynn Lecorchick staff writer
The annual Memorial Day Service and Ride for America motorcycle parade was held at Town Park in downtown Madison on May 26, where hundreds of locals donned in red flowers and waiving American flags gathered to honor the memory of all the service men and women who sacrificed their lives for their country and to celebrate the surviving local veterans in the community.
According to Scott Sellers, commander of the Morgan County Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the organization raised about $2400 dollars over Memorial Day Weekend that will go to benefit four organizations: the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) department in Morgan County, the United Service Organizations (USO), The Wounded Warrior Project, and a VFW children’s home in Eaton Rapids, Michigan.
“Today is about the people who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who gave their lives,” said Sellers. “We want to help all the loved ones they left behind.”
Veterans attending the service were moved by the turn out. Al Quern, 91, who fought in World War II as a Merchant Marine and survived his ship being torpedoed and sunk in 1943, was proud to stand alongside his fellow veterans.
“It is good to know we are not forgotten,” said Quern. Quern’s daughter, Theresa Wertheim, was also proud to be part of the Memorial Day service. “We definitely need to show respect and honor to those who have served our country because without them, many of us would not be here,” said Wertheim through tears.
The event was a collaborative effort between the city of Madison, The American Legion, The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Ride for America, and nonprofit organization that has orchestrated a Memorial Day motorcycle parade in Madison for the last 16 years.
Jim NeSmith, commander of the Madison-Morgan and Greene counties chapter of the American Legion, led the event.
“We are here today to remember those who gave their lives for their country,” said NeSmith. “We continue to lose service men all around the world. We must never forget that freedom is not free. It is only possible because of our soldiers who paid the ultimate price for it.”
Fred Perriman, mayor of Madison, spoke to the crowd about his gratitude for both fallen soldiers and surviving veterans.
“It’s always a great occasion for us to gather to recognize all those who have served our country. It is our privilege to honor them,” said Perriman. “It is because of those brave men and women that we are where we are today.”
Donald Harris, a Morgan County commissioner, praised fallen soldiers for demonstrating the highest ideal of love.
“The Bible says, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ But these men and women go above and beyond even that. Their willingness to risk their lives for those they never met: this is why they are the best of America,” said Harris.
An emotional Stan Mauldin, Jr. vice commander for post 233 of the American Legion, choked back tears as he addressed the crowd. “I get pretty torn up over this,” said Mauldin.
“I am very grateful to all those who attended today. It shows what we can do as Americans and how strongly we feel about our veterans.” Two Morgan County High School seniors in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, Nicholas Hairell and Sierra Castillo, delivered moving speeches about what Memorial Day means to them. Hairell urged the crowd to hold fast and enjoy the freedoms veterans have fought and died for.
“They did not leave this world in vain. They have earned their honor through their blood and their service. We honor them every day when we simply enjoy the freedoms they gave their lives for,” said Hairell.
Castillo asked the crowd to look up into the sky and take in the scenery and fresh air. She asked if anyone could imagine living in a country where even taking pause to admire the world around them was prohibited. Castillo credited the sacrifice of veterans for the wide range of freedoms America enjoys. “Today is not just a day to remember why America is the land of the free, but why it is also the home of the brave,” said Castillo. “We must remember of our veterans that all gave some, some gave all.” Rev. Butch Lee closed the service in prayer. “What a privilege we have to gather in a place such as this,” said Lee. “We have a strong nation, a strong people, and a strong God.”