Beaumont pauses to remember during Memorial Day ceremonies
Dozens of local families put the Memorial Day barbecues and pool parties on hold Monday morning to remember the sacrifices of the nation’s military men and women during a series of ceremonies at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
Beaumont city leaders, members of local veterans organizations and Lt. Col. Gordon Vincent, the new commander of the 82nd Transportation Battalion stationed at the Port of Beaumont, spoke on the meaning of the day.
Vincent said he took Memorial Day as a time of reflection and remembrance.
“Having served in combat and known people that sacrificed for their country, I think it is important to have time to recognize the price paid by others and what their lives meant,” Vincent said. “But I think it’s OK for people to spend the day how they want. There aren’t concrete ideals people have to meet about Memorial Day.”
Vincent was most recently assigned with the U.S. Transportation Command in Belleville, Illinois, the unified command responsible for the country’s global defense transportation system.
He took command of the local battalion from Army Lt. Col. Donald Santillo about two weeks ago, but he said Beaumont has already welcomed him and his family.
“It is a place with an incredible sense of community and a deeply rooted love for our nation,” Vincent said.
After prayers and words of remembrance in the funeral home, observers filed out for the rest of the ceremony in the memorial park.
A giant flag hoisted by a ladder truck from the Beaumont Fire Department helped lead the way across a manicured path to the memorial wall inscribed with the names of hundreds of veterans.
Members of the 82nd Transportation Battalion placed wreaths at the wall’s center and stood for a moment of silence. An honor guard in navy uniform fired a 21-gun salute for the fallen, followed by the traditional bugle call of “Taps.”
A bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” marked the end of the ceremony. Some onlookers stayed to search for names among the many on the wall, but others made the walk back to the funeral home marked by a growing plume of smoke from a local Scout Troop retiring old and tattered flags in a pyre.
One of the names on that wall belonged to Gerald Washington, a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army.
Washington said he comes to the Memorial Day event at Forest Lawn every year to show his respect, and also to help keep the traditions alive for a new generation. He said it’s important to keep a legacy going, especially in a time when it can be hard for people to find common ground with each other.
Washington served with the Seabees, as the storied United States Naval Construction Battalions are called, and continued with construction in the Army, traveling the globe to help build everything from infrastructure to radar stations.
Washington said he believes memorials like the one at Forest Lawn can help people understand not only the sacrifices but also the varied other ways military veterans did their duty.
“There are different aspects of the military people can learn to appreciate; not everyone fought while serving,” Washington said. “There are people who cooked beans and hauled bullets that were a part of the support group. You can’t fight a war without support, and there are so many different people that served in their own way.”
Matthew Sampson has also found a way to pay his respects, with a personal ritual he began after one of his friends was killed in combat in Afghanistan eight years ago.
As the onlookers cleared out of Forest Lawn on Monday, Sampson was using a toothbrush and water to scrub another year’s dust and grime from several headstones, including his friend, Army Pvt. David Andrew Drake. He cleans several markers this way until he runs out of flags to place on them.
Ryan Welch contributed to this report.