Hundreds gathered at Fort Benning’s Main Post Cemetery Monday morning to celebrate Memorial Day and pay tribute to those who had given their lives in service of their country.
The solemn ceremony took place under cloudy skies and included the placing of a wreath at the grave on an unknown soldier, the playing of Taps and a Memorial Day Message from Fort Benning’s Commanding General Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero.
“For some it is the start of back yard barbecues and summer vacation...But for most Americans, it holds a much deeper meaning.” Barbero said. “All soldiers who died for our country are forever connected.”
Barbero told the story of Army Spc. Ross McGinnis, a machine gunner serving in Iraq. McGinnis died in 2006 after throwing himself over a grenade to protect four other soldiers in his platoon.
“It didn’t matter to Ross that he could have escaped the situation without a scratch. Nobody would have questioned such a reflex reaction. What mattered to him were the four men placed in his care on a moment’s notice,” Barbero read from a letter from McGinnis’s parents. McGinnis posthumously received a Medal of Honor for his actions.
“You think, everybody is selfish, then you hear stories like that,” said Brett Axelberg, who’s husband, Lt. Col. Marc Axelberg, is in the process of deploying to Iraq.
For Kenny Johnston, McGinnis’s story hit close to home. His brother, Donald Johnston, was killed in Vietnam after he threw himself on a charge in a bunker. He died, but he saved six of his fellow soldiers.
“He shielded the blow, took it himself,” Kenny Johnston said, adding that McGinnis’ story had brought tears to his eyes. “It broke me up. I was in tears in the back...It’s been forty years. It seems like yesterday.”
Johnston and two of his brother’s old friends, David Delffs and Charles Hubbard come to Fort Benning’s Memorial Day Ceremony every year to visit Donald’s grave and place flowers at the grave site.
“We don’t bring it out for our part,” said Delffs, carrying a framed photo of Donald in his uniform. “We do it for him and other people who knew him.”
Delffs said the ceremony “breaks him up” but it also makes him feel good to see those who sacrificed their lives for their country honored. “I wish more people would come,” he said.