For Brig. Gen. Doug Cherry and many attending the ceremony at the Fort Douglas Cemetery on Monday, Memorial Day is personal.
They were there not just to pay tribute to those who have died in the service of their country, but to remember individual friends and family who sacrificed their lives.
“Many of us have lost friends and loved ones in battle. I think of my lost friends each Memorial Day,” said Cherry, the deputy commanding general of the Army Reserves’ 76th Division.
He recalled a classmate and fellow officer who was leading a convoy in Iraq in May 2003 when they were ambushed near Haditha, and his friend was killed by a sniper.
“So, as we all remember today, help me to remember Matt,” Cherry said.
He invited members of the audience to share the names of loved ones they had lost. Among those who stood and called out a name was David Moss, a Utah native who moved back to the state when he came off active duty in the Army three years ago. He recalled a fellow soldier who served with him in the 2nd Infantry Division when they were deployed to Iraq in 2009 and 2010.
“She was a soldier in my unit,” he said, the emotion apparent in his voice. “She ended up taking her life in Iraq. The stress of being downrange got to her... I went out to Dover [Air Force Base] and escorted her body. It was tough. It was tough on everybody.”
Moss and his family were among several hundred who turned out to the Fort Douglas Cemetery early on Memorial Day to honor those who served their country. From senior citizens in wheelchairs to toddlers in carriages, from folks in suits and ties and dresses to folks in shorts and t-shirts emblazoned with stars and stripes, many gathered at the Fort Douglas Museum and trooped behind bagpipers to the cemetery.
For 2½-year-old Reyansh Thapa, that was the highlight.
“He was asking for a parade this morning,” said his mother, Sangita Baniya. “His uncle is in the Army, and he’s interested in what they do.”
The native of Nepal — a student at the University of Utah — said she got caught up in the ceremony.
“This is our first time,” she said. “It was good. We liked the music and learning about the U.S. Army.”
Similar to ceremonies across the state and across the nation, those at Fort Douglas heard patriotic music and inspiring words, stood for the laying of a wreath, a gun salute and the playing of “Taps,” and remembered.
“Since the founding of our nation, more than 42 million Americans have stepped forward to serve our country when needed,” Cherry said. “More than a million died so their children and ours live in liberty. They came from every corner of America, and every walk of life.”
He promised they would not be forgotten, and that the United States will overcome “new threats to our freedom” from nations that “are challenging U.S. military dominance across every domain.”
“They will be met with same courage and commitment. And, like the foes of times past, will be defeated. This is our pledge to the men and women who have gone before, and our responsibility to our children and their children and all who follow.”