“The fourth Monday in May is the one day that we all come together as Americans and honor all of those who have died at war, fighting for our country,” Matthew Bein, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, said at the Memorial Day ceremony “Remembering Our Fallen Heroes.”
The ceremony was hosted by the A.L. McLaughlin Chapter 27 Disabled American Veterans and was held at the Fallen Heroes monuments in front of the St. Clair County Courthouse in Pell City.
Bein read a quote from U.S. Marine Sgt. William Stacey’s “in case I don’t make it home” letter.
“My death did not change the world; it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all. But there is a greater meaning to it. Perhaps I did not change the world. Perhaps there is still injustice in the world. But there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his. And this child will learn in the new schools that have been built. He will walk his streets not worried about whether or not his leader’s henchmen are going to come and kidnap him. He will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire. He will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it.”
Bein said a lot of people have opinions about what a “hero” is.
“A hero is someone that gives his/her life to something bigger than one’s self,” he said. “That is what all these men and women we are honoring here today have done. They accepted the honorable duty of what they were doing it for — freedom for you and me to stand here today and not have to worry about anything, making the ability for us to live life the way we choose and not be demanded upon, the ability to make our own minds and lives and to have goals and futures. The purpose behind terrorism is to instill fear in people and these heroes stood and looked fear in the face.”
Bein said many times after returning home he was asked by his closest friends, “Matt, most people are afraid of going over there and not coming back. Why do you keep going?”
“I simply responded, ‘How can you not?’” he said. “After every deployment when I gave my guys my piece of mind about everything that had happened I would say, ‘You have all done great things on deployment, but don’t let it be the greatest thing you’ve ever done.’”
Bein said as some gather on Memorial Day to show support, others gather to mourn the deaths of these heroes.
“I ask that we celebrate not the wonder or greatness of how they died, but how they lived,” he said.
Veterans Johnny Storey, Greg Jacobik and Bein read the names of the fallen heroes, and veterans Ben Owen, Hershel Denny, Otto Fox and Bein gave comments about the different wars in which each veteran served.
“Freedom is not free,” Fox said. “You are the reason we stay inspired. You are the reason we don’t give up hope.”
Those gathered also paid tribute to Lt. Col. George Richard “Dick” Whatley, U.S. Air Force retired, who died Saturday.
“Dick undertook to guarantee the accuracy of these monuments as his personal project,” said Col. Oscar Price, U.S. Army retired. “He did it at his own expense with no compensation.”
Price said Whatley wanted to ensure every hero who should be on the Fallen Heroes monument is there.
“Dick found many worthy heroes who had been omitted,” he said. “He never gave up following a lead. The accuracy of the monument is a testimony to his dogged tenacity.”
Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford said Whatley was a man of courage and conviction who was often referred to as the conscience of our community.
“For many years, Dick was deeply involved in virtually every worthwhile project that took place here in Pell City,” he said. “Dick was bound and determined that this monument contain the names of each St. Clair County veteran who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country from World War I until the present. Dick was a patriot through and through, a great family man and a devout Christian. We as a community have lost one of the greatest citizens. He will never be forgotten and we will not see his like again.”
The ceremony featured cannon salutes from a three-quarter-scale replica 1841 six-pound cannon performed by John P. Church and the cannon firing team: John M. Church, Doug Church and Joe Johnson, and dueling bugle “Taps” performed by David Storey and Robert Studdard with Ragland High School. Special music featured Steve Shafer and Teresa Carden. Sheyanne Trammell read a special veterans poem she wrote. Kilgroe Funeral Home provided refreshments.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at email@example.com.