JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City, state and federal officials and the military community gathered Monday morning at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Wall to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
There are 1,700 names of local men and women killed while in service to America on the wall, and four more were added Monday: Marine Sgt. Dustin C. Curtiss, Navy MA3 Johnny H. Oliver, Army Spec. Kejuan J. Haywood and Army Cpl. Deangelo M. Brown.
Broderick Brown's 22-year-old son's name was one of those inscribed on the black granite.
"It takes something like this to happen to your family for you to have respect for the men and women who (are) on that wall," said Brown. "But coming down here today is an eye-opener all across this country. Our kids are out there laying their lives on the line for us so we can enjoy the freedom that we have."
Organizers said the wall is a place to reflect on the lives lost any day of the year.
But on Memorial Day, honoring the men and women who never came home is especially important.
"We are committed to always remembering that they were serving their country when they passed away ... that together we grieve for their loss but we also celebrate their life," said retired Rear Adm. Victor Guillory, director of Military Affairs and Veterans Services.
Guillory said it's important to remember the people from our local community.
"What brings them together is that Jacksonville is their home of record. They all sacrificed during our nation's time of war, and they were on active duty," said Guillory. "So we are going to add them to the wall ... we are going to remember them for their sacrifice and the fact that it's an all-volunteer force, so they stepped forward."
Dustin Curtiss served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and his wife said he loved reflecting at the Veterans Memorial Wall.
"He found peace here, something that was very hard to come by for him, so on behalf of my entire family I want to say a very heartfelt thank you for allowing a little piece of our Sgt. Curtiss to remain here forever," Mrs. Curtiss said.
Monday's program featured remarks by Mayor Alvin Brown, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw and retired Adm. Jonathan Howe, followed by the presentation of memorial wreaths.
The Navy Band Southeast and the Edward Waters Chorus performed and a flyover by a Vietnam-era jet paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War.
Brown said the community really came together and this year was one of the largest turnouts.
"Today is an example of how much we value our men and women in uniform and how much we support them, not only those who serve, but their families," Brown said. "This is the largest Memorial Day observance in Florida."
Brown said he hopes to continue the tradition for years to come.
Guillory believes one in four people in Jacksonville have some link to the military, and it's important for the community to come out to say thank you.
"Take a pause from the normal Memorial Day events, the shopping, the visits to the beach, all the terrific things our families do, just to spend a few minutes at the wall," Guillory said.