JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Hundreds of veterans, service members, their loved ones and citizens joined together Monday morning to honor fallen heroes at the city of Jacksonville’s annual Memorial Day observance.
This year, six new names were added to the almost 1,700 on Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Wall that stands in honor of the service and sacrifice of U.S. service members who died while on active duty.
The six service members added to the wall for this service are Gabriel Fuentes, Elgin Ross, Stephen Johnson, Stephanie Hetland, Joseph Murray and William Posch. Family and friends of each were given the opportunity to speak.
After graduating from West Point, 1st Lt. Stephanie Hetland spent more than three years serving in the Army before dying in a car crash while on active duty last November.
"I thought the ceremony was very beautiful," her sister, Stephanie Hetland, said. "But it's bittersweet since it was a beautiful ceremony, but we miss her a lot."
"It's really overwhelming to see everybody here," said Lisa Hetland, Stephanie Hetland's mother. "It's amazing how many of our past military came out to support everyone."
The ceremony is held annually at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Wall, which was dedicated in November 1995 and serves as a tribute to nearly 1,700 Jacksonville-area heroes. It's the second-largest memorial wall in the nation, only behind the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
The 65-foot-long black granite monument stands behind a torch with an eternal flame and contains the names of service members who lost their lives in the line of duty since World War I.
Jacksonville's wall is the only one that honors veterans from all six service branches, including the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Wreaths were laid representing every branch of the military, an Army band played music and there was a 21-gun salute.
Gov. Rick Scott, Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Reps. Al Lawson and John Rutherford were among those who spoke at the solemn event.
"They were destined for greatness, but sometimes the greats have to leave us soon. Nonetheless, their memory and actions will continue to be remembered," the uncle of William Posch told the crowd.
"It's good to come to events like this, to where you get recognition and honor," Vietnam War Army veteran Reid Oxley said. "Not only our fallen brothers, but their families, too. Their families deserve as much respect as they do."
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