As the colors were posted in the Altavista Area YMCA gym Monday morning, many in the crowd saluted. Others placed their hands over their hearts.
The Memorial Day service, which began inside and concluded outside with placement of a wreath, a rifle salute and Taps, was a time for remembrance and appreciation of those who had given their lives for freedom. It was also a time for patriotism.
About 150 people attended the service, which was organized by Altavista‚Äôs Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4165 and American Legion Memorial Post 36.
The crowd sang with 5-year-old Jade Maria Shelton as she led the national anthem; they pledged to the flag as Lillie Mae Nichols of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary led; they heard Guy Tuck read the names of more than 50 fallen comrades; they watched as the flags of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard were paraded around the gym while the Staunton River Boys sang a verse from each branch‚Äôs hymn.
Altavista Mayor Mike Mattox said the men and women who serve in America‚Äôs military come from all walks of life, but they share several characteristics. He named courage, pride, determination, selflessness and dedication to the country.
Mattox noted two heroes from Altavista ‚Äď Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Walker and Marine Staff Sgt. Greg Copes. Walker was injured in April 2012 while serving in Afghanistan. Copes was killed last August while serving in Afghanistan.
The mayor asked audience members to keep their families in their thoughts and prayers.
Rep. Robert Hurt, the event‚Äôs guest speaker, also called attention to Walker and Copes.
Hurt, the 5th District congressman from Chatham, said Walker saved lives ‚Äúbecause he was willing to dig around in the dirt and disable the horrendous weapons.‚ÄĚ Walker is recovering from his injuries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Hurt told the crowd Copes went to serve because of Sept. 11.
‚ÄúHis nation called and instead of sitting there and letting someone else go, he said, ‚ÄėI‚Äôll go.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Copes is buried in the Mount Hermon United Methodist Church Cemetery. Two family members were at Monday‚Äôs service.
Speaking about the 5th District, which takes in 24 cities and counties from the North Carolina line to Fauquier County, Hurt said America‚Äôs military members come from all over the country, including places like Altavista.
Hurt said on Memorial Day, he thinks of the nation‚Äôs military men and women who go through the ‚Äúworst hell‚ÄĚ so the citizens back home don‚Äôt have to, so they can continue to live on Main Street and be protected.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm just so grateful for their service,‚ÄĚ Hurt said.
He asked what drives them to go into harm‚Äôs way for people they don‚Äôt know? His answer was, ‚ÄúThey want to preserve the beauty and peace we have, the freedom to pursue happiness, ‚Ä¶ the freedom to worship and say what we want.‚ÄĚ
He thanked the audience for remembering and keeping their spirit alive. He thanked the VFW and Legion posts for continuing to provide the opportunity to celebrate and remember America‚Äôs veterans.
Outside, as the service drew to a close, the wreath with red carnations was placed at the memorial shrine under the American and Virginia flags flying at half-mast. Each of the seven men in the joint VFW-American Legion honor guard fired three shots. Veteran Paul Brooks played Taps.
The VFW and American Legion annually organize services on Memorial Day and Veterans Day