The phrase "old soldiers never die; they just fade away," has long been a staple of soldiers' songs, and it was even uttered by famed Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The phrase has become part of the American lexicon, but Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett broke down what he called two "misconceptions" behind that phrase for those who gathered in the city's Veterans Memorial Park Monday to observe Memorial Day.
"Old soldiers do die, often in combat, and so do young soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen," Bennett said. "Service members young and old, men and women, from every branch of military service, die defending our country and our way of life."
Bennett gave welcoming remarks during a ceremony that sponsored by American Legion Bernard L. Tobin Post 128 of Aberdeen.
The post put on the ceremony in conjunction with Aberdeen Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10028, the Fitzgerald-Moore Catholic War Veterans Post 1841 and Korean War Veterans Chapter 271, said the Rev. Lewis Geigan, chaplain for Post 128.
The ceremony included an invocation and benediction from Geigan, as well as the traditional laying of wreaths at the memorial in the park by representatives of the veterans' organizations and Gold Star Mother Betty Bain,, music from the Aberdeen Middle School Band and Chorus, a keynote speech from Army Col. Robert W. Batts of Aberdeen Proving Ground and closing remarks by City Councilman Bruce Garner.
Dave Johnson of Legion Post 128 served as master of ceremonies.
"The New Testament tells us that there is no greater love than to give your life for another," Bennett continued. "Our fallen comrades have demonstrated that love, and that is what Memorial Day is all about."
Bennett, along with Batts and Garner, noted many Americans have forgotten the true meaning of Memorial Day, and they thanked those who made up the small crowd for coming out late Monday morning.
"Our fallen comrades didn't fade away," Bennett said. "In most cases, they were simply forgotten."
He told the audience that "There is still a spark of hope because you are here today."
Batts, who is the senior operations officer for the Army Public Health Command at APG and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, noted Memorial Day is "nothing more than just a red-letter day on a calendar," to many Americans, a time to take off work and have a barbecue.
"You come out because you know this is a time to remember those who answered our nation's call, those who were willing to risk everything they had," he told the audience.
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Memorial Day has been a federal holiday since 1967, but its roots go back to the aftermath of the Civil War, as families gathered in communities throughout the U.S. to honor loved ones lost in the conflict and to decorate their graves with flowers.
He noted only about 1 percent of the American population serves in the military today, meaning many people are disconnected from the service and those in it.
"One out of every 100 will raise their hand and say 'I will protect you,'" he lamented "One out of 100 will say, 'I will stand in the gap for you.' "
Garner recalled seeing a girl hold a sign during a Baltimore Orioles game stating that "Freedom Is Not Free."
"Just think, if it was free we wouldn't be here today," he said.
Geigan, during the benediction, talked about the more than 600,000 Americans who have given their lives in conflicts across the globe during the past 100 years.
"This is a wonderful day, and it is a day we reflect on those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice," he said.