Freedom saluted at Georgetown Memorial Day service

World War II/Korean War veteran Rudy Swanson represents the Marine Corps as he salutes during the wreath ceremony at Sunday’s Memorial Day service in Georgetown. Assisting is Ivan Neal of Boy Scout Troop 95. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — Georgetown’s traditional Memorial Day service Sunday brought an estimated 200 people to The Circle — and United States Marine Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Smith to the podium as keynote speaker.

As a proud Marine, he knows all about the horror and terror of war, having experienced firsthand the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was inside the Pentagon when the third of four hijacked planes, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the nerve cell headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Right around the corner …,” said Lt. Col. Smith. “At 9:37 … Boom! It shook the entire building.”

He vividly remembers seeing a huge “ball of fire” and thinking to himself, “This is going to hurt …”

Lt. Col. Smith survived that attack. But 125 people working in the building were killed, along with 64 crew members, passengers and hijackers on Flight 77.

Keynote speaker United States Marine Corps Ret. Lt. Col. David Smith, left, and master of ceremonies State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn speak after Sunday’s Memorial Day service.

With that backdrop, his “Faithful in Their Memory” message focused on that ultimate sacrifice made by men and women in perpetuating America’s freedom and liberty.

“We recognize our veterans that have passed for their unwavering service to America,” said Lt. Col. Smith. “Across this great country and throughout the world, Americans will pause this day to honor our brave fighting men and women who ,for more than 243 years, have underwritten our freedom … devotion to duty, honor and selfless service.”

“We recognize that all our veterans have given something of themselves to this country, and some have given all, laying down their lives to defend the freedoms we hold so dear,” said Lt. Col. Smith. “As President Lincoln said at Gettysburg in 1863, ‘We can only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause, which they so willingly gave their last full measure of devotion.’”

Georgetown Mayor Bill West offers the welcome address at Sunday’s Memorial Day service. Seated in back from left, Cathy Gorman, keynote speaker Lt. Col. David Smith (U.S. Marine Corps Ret.), the Rev. Rebecca Collison and State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

With The Circle filled with flags in the Georgetown/Millsboro Rotary Club’s Flags for Heroes, Georgetown Mayor Bill West welcomed those in attendance, which included a number of military veterans.

“This means a lot to the veterans to see people come out and do this,” Mayor West said. “There is nothing more beautiful than to see those flags blowing in the wind. Growing up and getting older, I realize more what them flags mean. As I get older, I see what the soldiers went through, and I respect the ones that are here now to be with us. And I’ll never forget the ones that are gone. We should never forget them.”

In her invocation, the Rev. Rebecca Collison of Wesley United Methodist Church/Bethesda UMC of Georgetown said, “We come to commemorate the lives of these, our friends, our family, our community — even those whose faces we’ve never seen but whose sacrifice touches our lives daily.”

Military veterans file in for the “Entrance of Veterans” at the start of the Memorial Day service in Georgetown Sunday.

“On this Memorial Day weekend, we give tribute, respect, honor and remembrance to the gallant men and women of our Armed Forces who have obtained God’s glory by laying down their lives for us and others,” the Rev. Collison said. “Remember the cost and hold in our hearts the true meaning of being one nation under God.”

After he retired in 2004, Lt. Col. Smith, who joined the Marines in 1981, served as an instructor at high school Naval and Marine Corps Junior ROTC programs. He is currently Senior Marine Instructor for the Marine Corps ROTC program at Woodbridge High School.

Lt. Col. Smith shared the bravery, devotion and ultimate sacrifice exemplified by Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, a pair of Marines on guard watch at an outpost in Ramadi, Iraq, who stood their ground and fired upon an approaching suicide truck bomber. In delaying the truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives, they sacrificed their lives on April 22, 2008. In doing so, they saved the lives of dozens of fellow Marines and Iraqi allies.

“In the corporate world we have colleagues and co-workers. In the Armed Forces we have brothers and sisters,” said Lt. Col. Smith.

Zachary Ables of Boy Scout Troop 95 plays “Taps.” A short distance on The Circle, his father Ben Ables provided the “echo.”

Sunday’s event was sponsored by the Georgetown Kiwanis Club, Korean War Veterans Association and the Georgetown-Millsboro Rotary Club.

Georgetown’s Troop 95 of Boy Scouts of America assisted with programs and the wreath ceremony.

The Delaware National Guard’s 198th Signal Battalion stationed at the Georgetown Armory performed the rifle salute.

Lt. Col. Smith several times referred to the debt owed to those who gave their lives in the preservation of freedom.

Rebecca Buckley, her grandfather Jack Buckley and their canine companion, Rusty, arrive for the event.

“We owe them our safety. We owe them our prosperity. We owe them our freedom. We owe them our lives. Any one of them could have done something more different, more self-serving with their lives as the vast majority of their age group elected to do. But no, they chose to serve,” he said. “All our heroes were simply stepping forward, and we as a people owe a debt we can never fully pay.

“They do it because they have faith. They do it because they are inspired. They do it because they believe in America and carry on the traditions and legacy of the veterans that have come before them to ensure that we are free.

“The kid who once wouldn’t share a candy bar with his little brother now gives their last drop of water to a wounded comrade, his only MRE (ration) to a hungry child. Our debt to these heroes can never be repaid but our gratitude and respect must last forever.”

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