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Memorial Day at Fort Donelson, hallowed ground, hallowed observance

Flags adorn headstones at Fort Donelson National Cemetery
Flags adorn headstones at Fort Donelson National Cemetery

Hallowed Ground, Hallowed Observance.

Memorial Day, this year on May 25th, is regarded as a day when besides cookouts, sales and parties; the American people stop to recognize and acknowledge that the liberties and freedoms we enjoy have come at a cost of precious human life.

Monday afternoon, the Women Veterans of America and the Women Veterans Network of the VA Healthcare System conducted the wreath laying ceremony at Fort Donelson National Cemetery in Dover, Tennessee. This was only the second time the ladies have had the honor and responsibility of conducting this annual event. Last year, inclement weather forced a last minute cancellation. This year, while the weather was not entirely cooperative, it did allow for the ceremony to go forward.

Honor Guard, Marine Corps League Detachment # 603
Honor Guard, Marine Corps League Detachment # 603

With an Honor Guard from the Clarksville Marine Corps League Detachment # 603, a bugler, all on hand, wreaths representing all branches of service and POW/MIA, and patriotic music by Rodney and Debbie Schmidt, all elements necessary for the ceremony were at the ready. Dignitaries, officials and public guests were all gathered. Even the rain clouds looked as if they would relent and hold back for the ceremony. There were many visitors attending to their loved ones graves and fresh flowers and decorations graced many of the headstones.

The official welcome to the ceremony was given by Mary Ross, Commander, Women Veterans of America, Chapter 20 and Mary Ann Woodward-Smith, Women Veterans Program Manager, VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System. Posting of the Colors was performed by the Honor Guard from Marine Corps League Detachment # 603, Clarksville; the national anthem was sung by Robin Blanchard, National Adjutant Women Veterans of America. Wanda Graham, Chaplain, WVA Chapter 20 gave the invocation.

Ceremony officials and guest seated on stage
Ceremony officials and VIP guests seated on stage

Stacey Hopwood, Vice Commander, WVA Chapter 20, served as master of ceremonies and introduced the guests to the audience. Steven McCoy, Ft. Donelson Superintendent, welcomed everyone to the national park and cemetery. County Mayor Rickie Joiner welcomed all guests to Stewart County. Mayor Lesa Fitzhugh brought greetings on behalf of the people of Dover. Ms Woodard-Smith introduced the keynote speaker, First Sergeant Carleen D. Robertson, USAF Retired.

The gathered audience numbered at about 130 guests. Young and old, firm and able-bodies to disabled and infirm, recognition was made to the occasion of the day and purpose of the place to which all had gathered. No one was too important or too insignificant to not be here.

Generations gathered to pay homage
Generations gathered to pay homage

Presentation of the wreaths by the Veterans Service Organizations, led by Jerry Rivers of Montgomery County, followed First Sergeant Robertson’s address. Taps was performed by Nechelle Dolata, Rossview High School Band of Pride from Clarksville. The ceremony concluded with the benediction given by Corina Collins, Tennessee State Commander, Women Veterans of America. The Marine Corps Detachment performed the Retrieval of the Colors and closing remarks were given by WVA Chapter 20 Commander Mary Ross.

Although the rain clouds did not hold their downpour for the full ceremony, it only rained on the ceremony, not in the ceremony and all proceeded with the occasion at hand. Following the wreath laying, VFW Post 4730, Dover, hosted a luncheon for all guests.

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