Sometimes inaugural events have a low turnout. That wasn’t the case, however, for New Braunfels’ first Memorial Day ceremony downtown.
About 250 people, many of them veterans, gathered on the Plaza on Monday morning to honor the men and women who paid the ultimate price to serve their country.
One couple in attendance were Mickey and Darlene Hall, who had driven from Schertz to observe the ceremony.
“We’re both patriots and we have a lot of respect for those who have lost their lives,” Mickey said. “I was fortunate that I came back alive and met my wife when I was in the Navy in San Diego. I had uncles in the second World War, a brother in the Korean War, and I was in during Vietnam but I was on a Navy ship — Navy ships were pretty safe places to be.”
Another attendee, Craig Mellor, said he was born and raised in New Braunfels but moved away to serve in the Army from 1969-72, during which time he spent a year in Vietnam and a year in Thailand. He moved back to the city recently.
“As far as coming here today, I wanted to remember the men and women who gave the ultimate to keep us free,” Mellor said. “I think (the memorial ceremony) is great. I wish a lot more towns would do more of this, and I wish a lot more people would come out and honor the troops and the people who died in combat.”
Standing on the edge of the Plaza lawn, Lynette Stirl, who has lived in New Braunfels for 16 years, said the Memorial Day ceremony was wonderful.
“It’s just a good, small town, community gathering to support and honor our troops,” she said. “My dad was in World War II, a Navy veteran. It’s nice to honor all the veterans, living and passed.”
Ladisliv Nami, who was attending with Stirl, had a unique perspective on the ceremony.
“Yes, I did serve — I served in the Czechoslovak Army. So maybe I don’t count, yeah?” he said with a laugh, explaining he has lived here for more than 50 years. “The little flags remind me of when I became a citizen. The Daughters of the American Revolution gave me a little flag like that many, many years ago.”
As the 36th Infantry Division Band, Texas Army National Guard, played patriotic music, New Braunfelser Kristi Morris situated her children, Laurel, 6, and Tyler, 4, in lawn chairs on the plaza grass.
“My kids keep asking what Memorial Day is. We’ve been telling them it’s to remember soldiers that have died, but I wanted them to see it so they would remember it and know what it’s about,” Morris said, explaining she is active duty Army working in Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston; her sister is reserve Air Force; and her father is retired Army. “So yeah, lots of connection for us.”
After the musical performance, members of the Canyon High School Air Force and New Braunfels High School Marine Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Color Guard presented the colors and raised the flag on the Plaza. Then, New Braunfels Police Department Chaplain Larry Monteverde led the invocation, Yesenia McNett sang the national anthem and Jason Martin, of the Comal County Sheriff’s Office led the pledges.
Mayor Barron Casteel stepped behind the podium to offer remarks.
“So many of us here have already been out this weekend adorning the graves of those men and women who have served and have given their full devotion to this country, but to stand here on our Plaza, which represents so much of this community, is an appropriate place,” Casteel said. “I hope in the years ahead — and thanks to Rusty (Brockman, event committee chair) for bringing this to our attention — that we’ll make this observance an annual event. So, I look forward to seeing you out here next year along with others in remembering why and who we are and who we owe for the freedoms that we have.”
Comal County Judge Sherman Krause said the turnout at the ceremony was evidence of how special the community is.
“Look around at all the people who come out to support our military and, especially, the men and women who gave their lives for us,” Krause said.
He explained that while the crowd was preparing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, he watched a pair of parents turn their children to face the flag and put their hands on their heart.
“It speaks really highly of this community and how our community supports our military and our country,” he said, reiterating that he hopes to see Memorial Day ceremonies become an annual event.
Major-General Dave Garza, USMC Ret. was guest speaker and talked about his personal experience with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and told of the many ways soldiers were honored during that time.
“So during this Memorial Day, my friends, as we walk across our nation’s cemeteries and we witness these gallant American families coping with their loss, let’s enable them in their grief. Let’s extend arms of comfort and ask them if they are all right, do they need anything, and offer to give them a hug, so that through our actions they know that we have not forgotten them.”
Following the reading of a couple dozen names of New Braunfels soldiers who were killed in the line of duty, members of the CHS AF JROTC, VFW/American Legion Honor Guards and 36th Infantry Division Band performed a helmet and stacked rifle ceremony complete with a 21-gun salute, wreath laying and TAPS.
Brockman, who was instrumental in the event’s organization said he couldn’t be prouder of his community.
“I’m very proud and I’m looking forward to being a part of the next one,” he said. “We want to make it even bigger. We’d love to fill up the Plaza. It has astounded me since digging into this in January that there are people who have lived here a lot longer than me that couldn’t remember ever having a Memorial Day Ceremony on the Plaza. But there’s a first time for everything, and all you can do is just do it and then make it even better the next time.”