Concluding a weekend of celebrations, the City of Leitchfield and Grayson County held the official grand opening and dedication of American Legion Post 81 Veterans Memorial Park on Memorial Day (Monday, May 30).
Located on East Carroll Gibson Boulevard in Leitchfield, the Veterans Memorial Park waves flags in honor of every branch of the American armed forces, as well as features a central monument and benches emblazoned with images symbolizing the various branches.
In addition, more than 300 memorial pavers display the names and service information of Grayson County veterans in the park.
“I feel humble and honored to have helped make this dream become a reality,” said Leitchfield Mayor William Thomason during the dedication ceremony.
“It’s a monumental day in Grayson County,” American Legion Post 81 Commander Shane Thomason said. “This behind me is for our veterans.”
Shane Thomason encouraged those in attendance to pause to reflect on the sacrifices of Grayson County’s 218 veterans who lost their lives in battle.
“Today, I want you all to just take it in…that’s why we’re here,” he said.
Officials estimate that more than 400 community members attended the park’s dedication, and among them was World War II and Korean War Veteran William Dean Smith.
Smith was shipwrecked on Mindoro Island in the Philippines and in the water for two and a half hours before being picked up by a Patrol Torpedo boat on Dec. 15, 1944.
William Smith, who comes from a family of servicemen, including his brothers, Lowell, Paul, and Curtis, and nephew, Dennis, said American Legion Post 81 Veterans Memorial Park is “terrific.”
The dedication of American Legion Post 81 Veterans Memorial Park was preceded on Saturday, May 28 with the annual Grayson County Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony.
The local Memorial Day festivities began with the annual procession from Leitchfield Fire Station 2 to the Centre on Main of the family members of local veterans of armed conflict whom have lost their lives.
Those marching in the procession walk to the commemorative tolling of the bells and carry placards with the names of the deceased Grayson County veterans from each United States military conflict.
Upon marchers’ arrival at the Centre on Main, the Grayson County High School Choir opened the 2016 Memorial Day Ceremony with a performance of the National Anthem.
Next, U.S. Army Veteran Lonnie Edmond McKinney, Jr. provided the invocation for the ceremony.
Grayson County Judge Executive Gary Logsdon then welcomed attendees to the ceremony.
“We want to thank those women and men who gave their lives so we could be here today,” said Logsdon. “We thank those fighting today. We thank you all for taking the time to think about them.”
Logsdon said that, when those at home feel unable to help the men and women serving in the armed forces, “pray. It works.”
Grayson County Tourism Director Brittany Gary then recognized platform guest veterans Joey Pence (Iraq), Donald Lindsey (World War II), Harvel Escue (Vietnam), Elbert Beamer (Korea), and Miles Thomas (Persian Gulf and Vietnam).
Following a performance of “America the Beautiful” by an ensemble of GCHS Orchestra students, William Thomason provided the roll call of Grayson County veterans who passed away between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016.
Lawler Elementary School Student Fallon Kassinger then performed “More Than a Name on the Wall” and was followed by Sophia Elmore, whom, alongside Benjamin Rogers, read “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Clarkson native Michael Alvey, a 1976 graduate of Grayson County High School, veteran of the armed forces, and current resident of Owensboro, served as guest speaker for the ceremony.
Alvey said servicemen and women perform their duty due to three words: duty, honor, and country. And Memorial Day serves the only American holiday set aside to honor veterans whom have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Alvey said that, while it is important to recognize the service of those still enlisted in the armed forces, Memorial Day “is for those who didn’t make it back home.”
“Service and sacrifice is not constrained by race, creed, or religion,” said Alvey, explaining that they are instead defined by placing others over oneself.
Gary then recognized the local students who participated in Saturday’s ceremonies, saying, “We have to teach our children that freedom isn’t free.”
Following a performance of “Homeland” by the GCHS Choir and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” by the GCHS Orchestra ensemble, GCHS Band Member Noah Gawarecki concluded the ceremonies with the traditional performance of “Taps.”
Reach Matt Lasley at 270-259-9622, ext. 2015.