Brent Barnett, Blanton’s uncle, was joined by his wife, children and other family members as they participated in the local Memorial Day ceremony held at the Marietta cemetery.
“My uncle was the one to inform me of the news of my nephew,” Barnett said when recalling the moment he learned that his loved one was dead.
Blanton was one of seven Marines killed in two separate incidents on Dec. 12, 2004, in Iraq’s Anbar province, which encompasses the battleground cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
The Marietta High School graduate was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, after enlisting in the military in 2002.
“He was just an amazing kid, full of life and never gave up,” Barnett said about Blanton. “He was just a very, very strong kid at heart.”
The 23-year-old was the most recent service member to be laid to rest in the Marietta cemetery, which is home to about 18,000 others who served in the United States military dating back to the late 1800s.
Prior to Blanton’s burial, no one had been buried there since 1996.
“This is the first time as a family we’ve been able to come back and visit his graveside,” Barnett said.
Blanton’s aunt, Donna Norton, was also with the family.
And while she never had the opportunity to meet Blanton, she was privileged to be with them during the ceremony Monday. She recently reunited with the family after 44 years.
“It’s an honor to be able to be in this family now and to be able to come pay my respects to the nephew that I never got to meet,” she said while getting teary-eyed.
“It’s just heartwarming. I just appreciate what he did. It’s hard that I never knew him, that I never had the honor of meeting him. It just breaks my heart, it really does.”
The Memorial Day ceremony
There were hundreds of others Monday who visited their loved ones’ graves, placed flowers on their headstones and took time to participate in the 69th Memorial Day celebration, which was hosted atop the hill at the national cemetery located off Roswell Street near downtown.
The ceremony featured active and retired military personnel, speeches by various prestigious armed servicemen and women, a presentation of more than 50 floral wreaths, a 21-gun salute, presentation of the colors, playing of each military branch’s songs, the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem.
This year’s guest speaker was Brig. Gen. Leon Johnson, the national president of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., who served in the U.S. Air Force for 33 years.
He explained in detail the history and traditions of Memorial Day and explained to the crowd why it is important to take part in various celebrations on Memorial Day.
“By definition, every time a member of the armed forces and Coast Guard puts on a uniform, they are placing themselves in harm’s way in defense of a dream,” he said. “We call that dream freedom, and it’s important to every American.
“Those of us gathering here today are paying special tribute to our fallen warriors. We need to remember and remind others of the real meaning of Memorial Day.”
Six other members of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. also were recognized during the hour-long ceremony as the 2013 Honoree Organization.
The Associated Press contributed to this article