National Guard general to speak at Memorial Day ceremony in Florence
FLORENCE, S.C. — The speaker for this year’s Memorial Day ceremony on May 27 at Florence National Cemetery will be the director of the Joint Staff of the South Carolina National Guard.
Brig. Gen. Stephen B. Owens is a Clemson ROTC graduate, Class of 1985, and has served and commanded various engineer units including the 122nd Engineer Battalion of the South Carolina Army National Guard when it earned a Valorous Unit Award while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
Since returning from overseas in 20005, he has served in different positions with Joint Forces Headquarters, including director of plans, operations and training of the South Carolina Army National Guard.
“I’m honored and very humbled to represent those of us who wear the cloth for the country on such a day of awareness and reverence,” Owens said. “We’re going to honor the service members who died in all the U.S. wars and it’s time to pause and the country to reflect on why we do what we do and for us to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for what we have.”
“Going back to the Civil War, there was those who died in battle scattered in every home town throughout the country. It’s an important reminder that, as they say, freedom is not free,” Owens said. “The national cemeteries, in my opinion, give us an opportunity and a special place of reverence for those who forgo their own personal desires and serve this country. ...
“When the populace sees the mass gravesites like you see in Europe and throughout the country I think it’s a solemn reminder it takes many to protect the sovereignty of our country. It’s an honored place for a veterans to be laid to rest.”
In the old section of the cemetery, there are several mass graves of those who died in and around Florence.
Owens has combat command experience through his time in Iraq.
“I served in combat, and I know the burden of command and the military entrusts in its leaders a huge responsibility, and unfortunately the horrible nature of war puts people in harm’s way, and decisions need to be made,” Owens said. “Our soldiers are the most courageous and committed group of men and women I’ve ever been around.”
“I lost two soldiers in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and it’s important to us, when you’re that close to those who have died, it’s important to us to reflect and remember,” Owens said. “I remember the two soldiers I lost — Algernon Adams from North Augusta and James Chance from down in Mississippi — or the 52 memorial services I went to with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment fighting for a foothold in Fallujah and Ramadi in the western desert of Iraq.
“It’s important for us as a country to remember where we came from to respect and honor the standards and values these men and women represent and we can carry them forward in the future.”
Memorial Day ceremony
“We start the flag Memorial Day at half-staff and then at noon we’ll raise it to full staff,” Owens said.
“Full staff is called the summit, and I’m reflecting back on the 75th anniversary of D-Day coming up and the trail across the beach. The trail across the beach was littered with people who died across the beach head and marking the routes so people wouldn’t step on mines, marking the routes with people’s bodies. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re raising the flag to the summit whether Mount Suribachi or Normandy or wherever the U.S. flag flies proudly.”
The ceremony will start at 10 a.m. at the new section of the cemetery, with parking available at the neighboring Pee Dee Center.
U.S. Army Col. (retired) Barry Wingard will be master of ceremonies.
“Carolyn Howard, the director of the Florence National Cemetery, and her staff, have put together another outstanding Memorial Day Ceremony,” Wingard said. “This event has a history of outstanding speakers, and Brig. Gen. Brad Owens will continue that tradition.”
The ceremony will feature Breanna Young of Wilson High School’s Tiger Production, who will perform along with the Veterans Honor Guard, which will fire three rifle volleys and sound taps.
“Each year the living history program and the live cannon fire with 19th-century artillery create a lot of excitement,” Wingard said.
This year, the Pee Dee Light Artillery and Palmetto Battalion re-enactors will participate along with the 3rd New Hampshire Company C and the Sons of Union Veterans, Camp No. 10, Charles Devens, Jr. Department of Georgia and South Carolina Color Guard who will offer a Color Guard in uniforms of the Civil War era.
The re-enactors will offer living history at the main tent following the ceremony.
Also following the ceremony participants will have the opportunity to place an American flag before every marker at the cemetery, something that usually happens in about 45 minutes.