Members of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard present the colors on Monday at the 11th annual Gwinnett Fallen Heroes Memorial ceremony outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — As a longtime educator, it was only fitting that Jim Markham provided a brief history of Memorial Day and the reasons it was established as a holiday.
Markham, a Vietnam veteran and former principal at Mill Creek High, was the keynote speaker on Monday at the 11th annual Gwinnett Fallen Heroes Memorial event outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Beginning with the War Between the States and Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, chosen because flowers were in bloom across the country to decorate soldiers’ graves, Markham offered a history lesson of how Memorial Day came to be.
“It is all together fitting and proper that, as we know, this day grew out of the devastation made by the War Between the States,” said Markham, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam. “All the dead should be remembered, regardless of their uniform’s color. They had paid with their lives.”
One irony in the dedication ceremony of Decoration Day was that it took place in Arlington House, the forfeited former home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that he lost as a consequence of the war, Markham said.
Honor guard units from the Gwinnett County Police, Fire and Emergency Services and Sheriff’s Departments and the Lawrenceville Police Department participated in Monday’s event that also included a 3-volley and Taps.
Monday afternoon’s Gwinnett Fallen Heroes Memorial ceremony was attended by more than 100 people under sunny and breezy skies and attended by veterans, relatives of veterans and several elected officials.
Gwinnett County Board of Commission chairwoman Charlotte Nash challenged the audience, given the recent low voter turnout in the primary election, to not squander what our military heroes have lost their lives for, and take time to vote.
“We are a patriotic people here in Gwinnett County,” she said. “We do appreciate the sacrifices of the people who are here on these granite slabs as well as people from all over.”
Nash also added that the audience not forget the sacrifices made until next Memorial Day — that they should be remembered daily.
Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson recalled a sentiment from James Lawrence, the city of Lawrenceville’s namesake, who said don’t give up the ship, and she added to “never forget those who protect us.”
Decoration Day, Markham continued, remained primarily a Civil War tribute until after World War I when Congress declared May 30 would be a day of reflection and remembrance for all who had given their lives in America’s wars.
As he passed through each decade of American history, Markham acknowledged each generation’s conflict or war and how it was fought so Americans could continue to know the value and benefits of freedom.
Markham then noted that in 1971, Memorial Day was named for the last Monday in May, one of 11 federal holidays, the same year Americans were fighting a war 17 hours away by jet. It was that same conflict that Walter Cronkite called an “unwinnable war” and when America became a “war-weary nation,” Markham said.
“My memories are very personal, as are the memories of those veterans who fought in Vietnam here with us today,” he said. “Ten years of Vietnam saw America demonstrate multiple faces, demonstrations and messages of support.”
As he closed his remarks, Markham said, “Let us remember our fallen friends every day.”