Behind a lectern, Dan Gates stood dressed in a Revolutionary War outfit that was nothing like the Army green he wore as a soldier in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.
Seated nearby was Kynesha Dhanoolal. In her lap sat a certificate honoring her husband, Darren, a soldier killed March 31 in Iraq.
Watching the festivities from the side was Sheryl Cline, who had her own special reason for wanting to pay tribute to America’s military.
The three were among a couple of hundred people at the Third Annual Memorial Day Commemoration at Parkhill Cemetery on Monday. A similar event had taken place earlier in the day at the Main Post Cemetery at Fort Benning.
This one was sponsored by the Coweta Falls Chapter of The Sons of the American Revolution.
Gates is the Georgia chaplain for the organization. He is currently pastor of East Highland United M e t h o d i s t C h u rc h i n Columbus but was a fighting man during the Vietnam War.
“I saw men die,” said Gates, “but when it comes to Memorial Day, I think not of particular soldiers but rather the long line of those in the military who have sacrificed for this country.”
The event was held at The Veteran’s Gardens in front of a large stone monument with the words “Dut y, H o n o r, C o u n t r y ” inscribed on top. It’s a place that Parkhill general manager Ron Passmore says gives him a “lump in the throat” whenever he goes up there. Some 400 tiny American flags stood on graves of former soldiers such as Leonard Moore, U.L. Pate, Robert Sheedy, Elmer Winstead, Samuel Allison and Ralph Queen.
Some of those in attendance sat under a green tent while others used red, white and blue umbrellas to keep a hot morning sun off their heads. Gates told those gathered that the ceremony’s purpose was to “honor the living and remember the fallen,” and that these men a n d wo m e n m u s t b e remembered for the “sake of their sacrifice, the sake of our nation.”
One of those remembered was Darren Dhanoolal, a 26-year-old native of Trinidad who had enlisted in 2002. A driver in Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, he was killed when a explosively formed penetrator hit his vehicle in Iraq.
“I’m sure he is looking down right now and smiling,” said Kynesha Dhanoolal, his wife of just 13 months. “He was always smiling, the kind to always make the best of a bad situation. I am so honored that he should be remembered in this way. He loved the Army and this country so much.”
Gates told the widow that those gathered were “in awe” of her husband’s courage.
William M. Hay Sr., president of the Coweta Falls Chapter, added that the ceremony was also to “salute those in harm’s way today.”
As for Cline, her father-inlaw, Walter Brown, a Vietnam veteran, is buried at Parkhill, but it’s not the reas o n s h e c a m e t o t h e ceremony.
“I live nearby and was just drawn to come,” she said. “My granddaughter Amber Johnson is going to be a senior next year at Russell County High and this was her first day in basic training with the reserves. She’s always been dedicated to ROTC and is planning on making the Army a career. It’s a tough time to be in the military, and being here you are reminded of the ultimate sacrifice many have made so it’s sad. Still, knowing that she wants to serve her country, that’s something of which to be proud.”