Hundreds people walked among thousands of tombstones Monday at Camp Nelson National Cemetery. The tombstones marked the lives of individuals who had served in conflicts such as the Vietnam and Korean War, or their relatives. Many of the visitors paused at the grave of a relative; several took pictures of family members kneeling next to the graves.
The Memorial Day ceremonies at Camp Nelson featured two cannon salutes, patriotic music performed by the West Jessamine High School band, and a fly over.
Dean Cook was the guest speaker for the Memorial Day service. Cook is a retired member of the United States Navy Chaplain Corps. He shared the story of Alvin York, one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. Despite his numerous accolades in the war, York originally did not want to fight in World War I.
“When World War I came by, he did not want to go,” Cook said. “But they sent him a draft notice anyway and he filled out his application and he put on that application, ‘Don’t want to fight.’”
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Despite his objections, York was enrolled in basic training, where he encountered a major who sent him home to Tennessee to deal with his internal struggle on whether or not to fight in the war, Cook said. While at home, York felt like God spoke to him and told him that there some things worth fighting for.
“Alvin went back to the Army, found himself in Europe and France and there he became America’s greatest heroic figure,” Cook said.
York is buried at Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall, Tennessee about 120 miles south of Nicholasville.
Cook also spoke about of Ira Hayes, a Native American from Arizona who served in the United States Marines during World War II. Hayes is known for his appearance in the iconic photo “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” which showed six Marines raising an American flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Hayes eventually died from exposure of the cold and alcohol poisoning in 1955.
Memorial Day, which was first widely observed as Decoration Day in 1868, was established to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. By the late 1800s, many cities and communities observed Memorial Day and the nation had declared it a legal holiday.
The annual celebration at the national cemetery attracts many to honor the fallen veterans. One of those include Deborah Duff, a Jessamine County resident. Duff, who has come to the annual event since the 1980s, said she comes in honor of father, Cecil L. White, who was a Marine in World War II and her nephew, Ryan White, who served as a member of the Air Force in Iraq. Ryan White currently works for the Lexington Police Department.
Duff said Memorial Day means remembering those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
“It means we honor those who sacrificed and are continuing to sacrifice for our freedom,” she said.
Duff said the ceremony makes her proud to live in Jessamine County and said the national cemetery was wonderful.
“It’s also sad because I’ve watched this cemetery grow over the years,” she said. “We came to Jessamine County in ‘85 and I’ve watched the headstones go up. So it’s a mixed feeling.”