“Let me thank all of you for being here to commemorate this day, the 144th anniversary of Memorial Day,” said retired Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston when welcoming the crowd. “We are here in memory of our fellow Americans who now rest with God and gave their lives in service to our nation.”
The annual ceremony lasted about an hour and included musical performances by the 116th Georgia Army National Guard Band and the Tara Winds band, speeches by Capt. Joe Caley and Livingston, and the placement of wreaths at Smyrna’s Veterans Memorial.
Two retired U.S. Army soldiers, Col. Ron Davis and Major Larry Moyers, led the event, which was sponsored by the city of Smyrna, the Veterans Memorial Association and the American Legion Post 160.
“Today, as we honor the men and women who died to secure the blessing of liberty, we want to make sure that their family members and their loved ones know that those sacrifices were not in vain and will forever honor and never forget them,” Davis said.
During the ceremony, Moyers asked that attendees remember the 205 Cobb County men and women who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the War on Terrorism.
He said the two recent military deaths were Cobb residents Marine Spc. Christopher Foster, a McEachern High graduate from Marietta who died on Jan. 15 of lymphoma thought to be related to his time in the service, and Army 1st Lt. Jonathan Walsh, a North Cobb High graduate from Kennesaw who was killed in action on April 22.
“God bless all of our fallen warriors, our nation, our country, their families and the United States of America,” he said.
The first of the guest speakers was Capt. Caley, who was medically discharged from the U.S. Army last year. He was injured on Sept. 18, 2009, while rescuing an Iraqi civilian from a burning vehicle near Baghdad.
After initially being taken to Germany for treatment and eventually the U. S., it wasn’t until almost seven months later that Caley learned to walk again and started playing golf.
“I did find therapy in the game, and when I did I started dragging other warriors from the hospital out and noticed that they were making a stark improvement, not only in their morale but in their physical abilities,” Caley said. “I realized there was something to the game.”
He now hits about 1,000 golf balls a week as part of his therapy and serves as the Southeast coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Project while living with his family in Augusta.
“Though I don’t wear the uniform of the United States Army anymore, I’m still on a mission to be a good example to wounded warriors and to get them out and to be engaged and once again stand side by side with another warrior to their left and to their right,” he said.
The second guest speaker, Major General Livingston, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1995 after 33 years of service, and like Caley was injured while serving his country.
Davis said Livingston was injured three times in 1968 and was presented the Medal of Honor by former President Richard Nixon on May 14, 1970.
Livingston, who now lives in Mount Pleasant, S.C., has also received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
“The future is uncertain, but what is not uncertain is the commitment, dedication and resolve of this nation that we call America and the efficient capability of our military,” Livingston said during his speech, pointing out that since the Civil War, more than 1 million Americans have been killed in battle.
“They are why we are free and why we are alive,” he said. “We as a nation and as citizens must always remember those Americans who have fallen on the fields of honor in service to world freedom.”
At the end of the ceremony, service members and their families placed six wreaths in front of the Smyrna Veterans Memorial — one for each war since World War I.
“These fallen heroes died in the pursuit and the protection of the things that they most cherished, their faith in God, their loved ones, the American way of life and their duty,” Moyers said. “On Memorial Day, is it our turn to demonstrate how we cherish their sacrifices. Today we will place six wreaths on this memorial for those who gave their lives in the battle of freedom.”
Gwen Mickleboro, 78, and her husband of 14 years, 89-year-old Harry Mickleboro Jr., have been attending the Smyrna ceremony since it began 10 years ago.
“We’re here every year,” she said. “It’s so moving and so wonderful.”
Mickleboro said it’s important to attend events like this annually so that she can thank the service men and women who served or continue to serve the country.
Her husband, who joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and the Marine Corps in 1943, fought in World War II.
“Today was especially important because we heard from two people who were right there in the middle of (war) and they know what it’s all about. They can portray to you what’s going on and why we should be here,” he said about Caley and Livingston.
“(The ceremony) was really nice. We enjoy it every time, and of course having the feature speaker as a Marine doesn’t hurt anything.”