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A wreath is layed at Fort Belvoir's War Memorial, May 26, as part of the Memorial Day observance.

Residents across the region and the nation took pause to remember the sacrifices that have been, and continue to be paid by service members around the world in defense of liberty and freedom, as Memorial Day saw somber moments and recognition of those who have died in combat.

As long as this country has existed, American service members have fought bravely when called upon, and Memorial Day is a time to show respect and gratitude to those who have fallen in service to our nation, as our nation has been shaped and made possible by all those who have served and by all who were lost. As President Joe Biden noted during ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, “Memorial Day is always a day when pain and pride are mixed together.”

At Fort Belvoir last week, Col. Joshua SeGraves, garrison commander, gave remarks to a gathering at the installation’s War Memorial on Long Parade Field, noting on the first Memorial day the U.S. is not at war in 20 years, that nearly 1.2 million service members have made the ultimate sacrifice and service to our nation.

“We are reminded the world remains a dangerous and unstable place and that our service members are in harm's way across the globe,” SeGraves said. “Our all-volunteer Army is a credit to Americans of all races, genders, religions and creeds, and our common commitment to defense and a love of country binds and unifies us. That goes to the very heart of what it means to be an American.”

At a Friday observance sponsored by Prince William Board of County Supervisors, Chair Ann Wheeler said we all owe a debt of gratitude to those who served, but especially to those who perished on our behalf.

“As we thank those who we have lost, let us also remember the losses of our heroes on the homefront. The nation's military forces cannot carry out their duties without the critical support that family and loved ones provide every day. And we recognize and honor them as well,” Wheeler said.

Yesli Vega, Coles District supervisor, commemorated the addition of a new name to the county’s Wall of Heroes in Freedom Park War Memorial. Forrest Nelson Leamon, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2008, Leamon married Ana Lopez, and they moved to Woodbridge soon after they were married. They were expecting their first child when Leamon died in a 2009 helicopter crash on his third deployment to Afghanistan, along with two other DEA special agents and seven U.S. soldiers during a joint, covert mission to combat drug trafficking. All 10 are buried together at Arlington National Cemetery.

Speaking Sunday at Stafford County’s Memorial Day ceremony, Quantico Marine Corps base commander Col. Michael Brooks said the power of the all-volunteer force is strong because of the selfless devotion of those who raised their right hand and swore to defend the constitution of the United States.

“It is events like this one, and those around the entire country, where we teach our younger generation our responsibility as a nation, and as citizens to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to allow us to enjoy the freedoms that we have today,” said Brooks. “No war should ever be forgotten. Not only because of its lasting effect, but also because the memory of those who gave their lives to their country will forever remain with their family and friends.”

Monday, veterans and family members gathered across the street from the Freedom Museum in Old Town Manassas, as the Linton Hall School Fife and Drum Corps piped the national anthem, and the Osborne Park Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps presented the colors.

James Porter, a retired Navy captain and the museum’s president, reminded the dozens attending that Manassas itself was the site of two Civil War battles with terrible casualties.

“We are the children of sacrifice made by a long line of American servicemen, each a link in that chain of honor,” Porter said. “We are here to continue their legacy and I hope we live a life that's worthy of them. We owe them a more perfect union. I pray that we the people continue to flourish in freedom and liberty for all as we respect our fellow citizens and move forward in these troubled times toward a more tranquil and peaceful future, as we pause to remember those whom we owe so much.”

In line with the Freedom Museum’s mission, Porter and others read the names of all those from Prince William County who died in combat in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, with local Veteran Ray Baybrook ringing the bell for each soul.

Col. SeGraves pointed out that although combat is now faced by those who volunteer, freedom has never been free.

“It has come at a great cost paid for with those who were loved and who, in return, love their countrymen enough to die for them,” SeGraves said. “It is not a day to commemorate war; it's a day to celebrate valor and patriotism.”

Paul Lara covers the military beat. Reach him at plara@insidenova.com

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