Virginians remember the fallen at ceremonies across the state

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jay N. Ellis, Virginia Air National Guard State Command Chief Master Sergeant, places the wreath honoring the Virginia National Guard at the Eternal Flame in the Shrine of Memory May 29, 2017, at the 2017 Commonwealth’s Memorial Day Ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond. Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia National Guard personnel took part in Memorial Day ceremonies across the commonwealth May 29, 2017, to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our nation and the ideals of freedom.

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, was keynote speaker for the Commonwealth’s Memorial Day Ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial, and he and his wife Cheryl placed the Commonwealth of Virginia memorial wreath at the Eternal Flame in the Shrine of Memory. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jay N. Ellis, Virginia Air National Guard State Command Chief Master Sergeant, placed the wreath honoring the Virginia National Guard, and Virginia Delegate Richard Anderson and Deputy Commissioner at Virginia Department of Veterans Services Steven J. Combs placed the wreath for the Virginia War Memorial.

The Clifton Forge-based 29th Division Band provided ceremonial music and Virginia Army National Guard Honor Guard conducted a rifle salute for the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Amelia Court House, Virginia, where Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was the keynote speaker honoring the fallen across all military service branches.

This ceremony in Amelia was one of four Memorial Day Ceremonies presented in partnership with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. There were also be ceremonies at the Virginia Veterans Cemeteries in Dublin and Suffolk.

Williams shared his family’s personal connection to the Virginia War Memorial in his keynote address. He recalled growing up in Richmond and his father and grandfather bringing him and his brother to visit the Hall of Heroes where the names of personnel killed in action are remembered. One particular visit stood out when his grandfather pointed up to the east wall of the memorial and told the story of his brother, Williams’s great uncle, and how he was killed in action in Germany in the winter of 1945.

“That visit was a line of demarcation…this place took on more significance and I also started to look at those veterans in a different light,” Williams said. “There are many times from that point until now that I catch myself thinking how I wish I could go back and talk to my Grandfather – and all of those veterans – today.”

Ten Virginia National Guard Soldiers have been killed by hostile enemy action since Sept. 11, 2001, and they are among the 299 Virginians remembered on the Wall of Honor. Williams asked that everyone keep them and their families in their prayers.

In total, there are 11,771 Virginians who died while serving in the Armed Forces in World War I, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the the Global War on Terror honored at the Memorial.

“I think back to my Grandfather and recall the pain that he carried from the loss of his brother but the sense of peace and pride that this special place brought to him,” Williams said. “It’s my hope and prayer that our Gold Star families share this experience. And for those of us who have lost loved ones – that we can use our time here to reflect on the sacrifices and how important it is to remember.”

These are the 10 Virginia National Guard Soldiers lost to hostile enemy action since Sept. 11, 2017:

Staff Sgt. Craig W. Cherry, 39, of Winchester, Va., and Sgt. Bobby E. Beasley, 36, of Inwood, W.Va., died on Aug. 7, 2004, in Ghazikel, Afghanistan, when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. Both Soldiers were assigned to the Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 29th Infantry Division, Winchester, Va.

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Sgt. Nicholas C. Mason, 20, of King George, Va., and Sgt. David A. Ruhren, 20, of Stafford, Va., died Dec. 21, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq, when their dining facility was attacked. Both were assigned to the Army National Guard’s 276th Engineer Battalion, West Point, Va.

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Col. Paul M. Kelly, 45, of Stafford, Va., and Sgt. 1st Class Darryl D. Booker, 37, of Midlothian, Va., died in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 20, 2007, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter they were in crashed. Kelly was assigned to the Joint Force Headquarters of the Virginia Army National Guard in Blackstone, Va., and Booker was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division, Virginia Army National Guard, Sandston, Va.

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Sgt. David E. Lambert, 39, of Cedar Bluff, Va., died Oct. 26, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command of the Virginia National Guard.

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Sgt. Derek R. Banks, 24, of Newport News, Va., died Nov. 14, 2007, in San Antonio of wounds suffered Oct. 25 in Baghdad, Iraq, when the vehicle he was in struck an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, Virginia National Guard, West Point, Va.

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Staff Sgt. Jeremiah E. McNeal, 23, of Norfolk, Va., died April 6, 2008, in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, Virginia Army National Guard, West Point, Va.

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Sgt. Jesse A. Ault, 28, of Dublin, Va., died April 9, 2008, in Baghdad, Iraq, from wounds suffered in Tunnis, Iraq, when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 429th Brigade Support Battalion, Virginia Army National Guard, Roanoke, Va.