As the last, familiar notes of taps echoed through Chattanooga National Cemetery, John Barry stood in silence.
Barry, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, said he is one of the few pilots of the 446th Bombardment Group still alive. Surrounded by his family, which now lives in East Ridge, his eyes turned misty as he talked about his comrades who were killed almost 66 years ago and those who have died since then.
“But some of the hardest things for me was seeing my son go to Vietnam,” Barry said.
His son came home with a Purple Heart but was one of the fortunate ones who survived, Barry said.
Several hundred people, including veterans, family members and local residents, gathered Monday in the Armed Forces Pavilion at Chattanooga National Cemetery to honor those who died protecting their country and to remember their sacrifice on Memorial Day.
“There’s always been a price for the freedom that we have in our country,” Vietnam veteran Roger Helle said to the crowd.
Honoring all soldiers, those living and those dead, is important to the fabric of America, he said.
“If we do not honor the ones who are serving now and by doing that keeping America free ... we dishonor those who paid the ultimate price.”
In the distance, loved ones of fallen soldiers could be seen placing flowers at numerous gravesites. Small American flags waved in the breeze in front of each tombstone.
In a somber voice, Patty Parks, a retired U.S. Navy commander, gave the last roll call to honor the fallen soldiers from the Chattanooga area who died this year.
Near the front of the crowd, Pamela Payne sat with three of her grandchildren.
“Every year we come out,” Payne said after the ceremony.
Looking down at her grandchildren, she said she wants them to understand what Memorial Day stands for and to be thankful for the “freedom we have to worship and to do the things we do.”
When Dick Castle, who actively served in the Navy from 1964 to 1965, sees young people at these types of ceremonies, he gets excited.
“I think the young people [often] don’t know what it’s about,” he said.
His wife, Mary, nods and recalled that they were newlyweds when Castle was called to duty. After only being married for three days, he was gone for a year, she said.
“I wrote him a letter every day,” she said, smiling up at him.
This July, the Castles will celebrate their 48th anniversary.
As Monday’s crowds began to thin at the cemetery, a smaller group gathered in the same spot to remember their fallen soldiers.
Several tribesmen from the Cherokee Nation beat a drum and sang in honor of the American Indian veterans.
“We want to make sure our warriors are honored today. There’s several Native Americans buried out here,” said Vicky Walden, wearing a handmade traditional Cherokee dress.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...