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Remembering the fallen

Mountain View Cemetery hosts Memorial Day commemoration

All five service branches were commemorated during a wreath laying ceremony at Mountain View Cemetery. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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In the very back row of chairs sat Albert Cortes.

I sat down next to him.

"I feel I should be here to pay my respects," the veteran of the Korean War and 21 years of service quietly said to me. "There are guys here who gave their lives for us, and that's why Memorial Day is so special."

About 350 other veterans, civic officials and families gathered Monday afternoon under a gray sky and fluttering flags with Cortes in the Honor Section of Mountain View Cemetery to honor those who had given their all.

Memorial Day is steeped in history.

Initially called Decoration Day, Gen. John Logan's General Order No. 11 stated the "30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion."

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected.  In 1968, however, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May.

Monday marked the 148th celebration of remembering America's fallen heroes.

"We remember all who have perished, those who have given their last full measure," said Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson in his opening remarks.

He went on to delineate the relationship and history the city has with Joint Base Lewis-McChord and how it is not uncommon to know someone who has lost a loved one.

"Memorial Day is more personal here," he said.

No one knew that better than keynote speaker Col. Daniel Walrath, chief of staff, 7th Infantry Division, JBLM.

"Live a life worthy of their sacrifices; we owe them nothing less," he said as his voice cracked.

Cortes clearly understood that.

"I also came here today to remember my grandson who died in Iraq in 2005," he said as his brown eyes softened. "He is gone, and I still feel an emptiness, so I am here to pay my respects to him and all those who have given their lives in defense of this country."

Good words to remember from a veteran sitting in the back row.

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