By Jason A. Smith
Leaders at a local funeral home are marking Memorial Day in a special way, with a program dedicated to military personnel.
Horis A. Ward Funeral Home, at 376 Fairview Rd., in Stockbridge, will host the event today from 11 a.m., to 2 p.m., at Fairview Memorial Gardens Cemetery.
Funeral Director David Gentry says the annual celebration provides a time of "remembrance" for family members, and loved ones of people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
"I feel that [the purpose of] Memorial Day is to honor the men and women of the different branches of service, whether they are active duty or have passed on," he says. "It means a great deal to me, because if it weren't for these men and women, we wouldn't have the freedoms that we have today."
Gentry also notes the holiday is significant for him on a personal level. "My father fought in World War II, and my brother fought in Vietnam," he says. "I remember them more on Memorial Day."
The program will include patriotic music by singer Charlie Murray and trumpeter Stu McGhee, with catering provided by Shane's Rib Shack in Conyers. The keynote speaker for the event will be former Atlanta radio host, Ludlow Porch.
Ted Cash, a retired funeral director and coordinator of today's event, says the celebration is designed to recognize all military veterans. Still, he places particular emphasis on those who have made the "supreme sacrifice" by giving their lives in service to their country.
"Freedom is not free," Cash explains. "It's not even cheap. Every flag that we fly is an installment in that price of freedom. Not all of [the military personnel represented at the cemetery] died in the service, but they were willing to put their lives on the line."
Cash hopes people who participate in the program, will reflect on the blessings of being an American.
"I like to think of [the event] as feeding souls, rather than just feeding stomachs," he says. "I've always believed that the freedom we have is a gift from the good Lord. The people who serve our country are given the gift of maintaining that freedom."
In preparation for the holiday gathering, the funeral home continued a 15-year Memorial Day tradition Friday. Volunteers erected more than 850 U.S. flags on the cemetery grounds - one for each military veteran buried at the cemetery.
Toni Cox, office manager at funeral home, says she was "honored" to be in the hot sun last week, putting the flags in the ground.
"I grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day of my life, and that flag means an awful lot to me," she says. "I have a father and brother-in-law that fought under it. More young kids ... need to know the meaning of that flag, because [veterans] made it possible for us to still be able to live here, under a free union."
Pete Schaefer, a U.S. Air Force veteran from Stockbridge, also helped raise the flags at the cemetery. A former aircraft mechanic ,from 1962-66, Schaefer says he appreciates the desire of leaders at the funeral home, to honor him and others who have served the country in uniform.
"It makes me proud that they're doing that for us," he says. "Not everybody would put out the effort. I hope people realize the meaning of it."