A Twenty One Gun Salute

by Valerie Garner

As in years past, Lee Plaza was the site of Roanoke’s Memorial Day Service. Monday 100 veterans, family members and friends offered tribute to veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice. While others prepared for picnics or were sleeping in Monday morning, the true meaning of the day resonated with many city residents.

Before the service began, this reporter asked the name of the gentleman standing nearby. He was Commandant of the Marine Corps League Detachment 426 Michael Shepherd. He served in Vietnam in 1966 and was in charge of Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADA). Softly he said, “It is just like any other demolitions but it just makes a bigger bang.” An ADA is a nuclear device designed to be detonated on or below the ground surface, or under water, as a demolition munition against material-type targets to block, deny, and/or channel the enemy, as described by the Department of Defense.

Gardner Smith, 71 was attached to the 1st Infantry Division. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1965 and 1969 and is twenty-four years retired. Smith said he provided logistical support and handled the remains of fallen soldiers to be returned to the U.S. “It was tough but it was a job that had to be done. Don’t leave anybody,” he said. Smith and Rusty Witt, who also served, were preparing for their return ride to the Veterans Administration. Both said they were there temporarily. Smith was in a wheel chair but said he would be up and around and dancing soon.

After the posting of the colors by the DAV of the Roanoke Valley, Gloria Evans-Williams sang the National Anthem. Retired Army Lt. Col. Dan Karnes, president of the Roanoke Valley Veterans Council, introduced Major General Randal Fullhart, commandant of cadets at Virginia Tech, as speaker.

To the veterans he said, “We know and appreciate the price of the path less traveled. We also know the satisfaction that comes with the company that we keep; the friendships that transcend time and location … it is born out of common experience and common purpose and common cause.”

“We can be an example to others around the world of what free people in the respectful pursuit of happiness can accomplish,” said Major General Fullhart.

After the wreath was positioned at the monument that bears the names of the fallen, bagpiper Brandon Davis played Amazing Grace.

Following Taps, the Reverend Dr. David Dixon Deacon from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church said a prayer for peace. “In his perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness … deliver us from hatred, cruelty and revenge,” he prayed.

As Major General Fullhart said to those touched by the loss of a loved one in service to our country, “Memorial Day is every day; not just once a year.”