Jax honors fallen heroes with ceremony

2 names added to Veterans Memorial Wall this year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – This Memorial Day, thousands around the country are honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving our country.

At 9 a.m. Monday, the city of Jacksonville honored its fallen heroes at the annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Wall, located at 1145 East Adams Street between EverBank Stadium and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

More than 1,700 fallen heroes' names are on the Veterans Memorial Wall downtown, and two more were added this year.

Those two troops' families were invited to share more about their loved ones with the crowd of hundreds.

IMAGES: City holds Memorial Day ceremony

Derek Smith was one of the names added to the wall this year who died serving his country; the other was Kimberly Weller. Smith was a military police officer, and his father said this honor is something his son would love.

"This is such a humbling experience," Alan Smith said. "All of these people would come out and honor all the veterans and my son Derick. It's overwhelming."

"This is a special part. Unfortunately we're still adding names to the wall but they certainly deserve it and I think it's certainly going to make the ceremony extra special for everyone," said Retired Rear Admiral V.G. Guillory, director of Military Affairs for the city of Jacksonville.

Cheryl Houston said it was important to attend the ceremony to carry on the legacy of her father.

"My dad was a World War II vet. He is deceased now," she said. "What I am doing, the way I am dressed, I am keeping his memories alive."

The ceremony also honored the names on four panels of the wall, the service men and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. This year marks the war's 50th anniversary.

"We're going to recognize our Vietnam veterans that are present and also those on the wall just to say thank you to ensure that they know that we will never forget all they did," said Guillory.

The observance was free, and featured addresses from the mayor, Navy and community leaders. Also, there was music by Jacksonville native and American Idol Finalist Phil Stacey.

The ceremony also included a flyover and a 21-rifle salute and Taps.

In this military town, it's a strong and enduring show of support.

"The city of Jacksonville strives to be the most military-friendly city and they show it every day," Rear Admiral Sinclair Harris said. "And this is just another great example -- the turnout here, this beautiful memorial they have here to all of our fallen heroes. This city is just fantastic."

"People that have, that come together to remember and appreciate what veterans do but also on this special day to really pay honor to those who gave the most," Guillory added.

Several hundred people also turned out for a ceremony at Jacksonville National Cemetery (pictured, right) on the Northside on Monday afternoon.

Agnes Hart had tears in her eyes as she remembered her husband, Robert, a World War II veteran buried at the cemetery last year.

"And I said to him, 'Dear, if you get buried at the National Cemetery you will be honored for ever and ever," Hart said. "He said, I think you're right. So that's why he is here, and I get to be buried with him."

Vicky Kersey buried her father at the cemetery. Her dad, Smith Kerseywas, was a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran.

"It is everything to me because he was wonderful," Kersey said. "He was a wonderful father. He served his country 30 years in the service. He made a great sacrifice out of love for his country, showed me what a good patriot and a good citizen is. So it is everything for me to be here, an honor and a privilege to be here to honor him."

For more information about the Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services Department, and other Memorial Day events, call 904-630-CITY (2489) or go to its website.