Dismal weather conditions Saturday could do nothing to chill the hearts of a reverent crowd attending the eighth annual Celebration of U.S. armed forces personnel at Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Recognized by most as Wreaths Across America by veterans and those who share a pledge never to forget the sacrifices of the nation’s soldiers, the annual event paid homage to their memory.
At the Chattanooga observance, which included a large contingent of Cleveland and Bradley County organizations and individuals, some 800 wreaths were placed.
Co-hosted by the Civil Air Patrol, the ceremony included CAP squadrons from Cleveland, Chattanooga, Rhea County, Tullahoma and Williamson County, as well as several chapters of Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution (Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter), and a variety of additional groups.
Amid the colors of America anchored in a theme of patriotism, the day also belonged to a keynote address by a longtime Tennessee legislator who urged parents across the country to instill in their children the same American values that their parents instilled in them.
“Bring your children ... tell your children ... remind your children,” state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District, urged the crowd.
Brooks, who has delivered the keynote in prior Wreaths Across America tributes, described those on the grassy hills of the national cemetery as heroes.
“I stand before you today as a Tennessee state representative, as a Son of the American Revolution, and as a proud member of the Tennessee Civil Air Patrol Legislative Squadron,” Brooks said. “Today, we all stand here in this national cemetery with heroes all around us ... laid to rest in this final resting place.”
National cemeteries, like the one hosting Saturday’s commemoration, house the heroes representing “... the battles of the American Revolution, the cold mornings of the Civil War, and all the way through World War I and World War II, and Gulf wars,” Brooks said. Such cemeteries also grant a final resting place to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, as well as Afghanistan.
“As I look across these rolling hills of this beautiful national cemetery, I am filled with awe,” Brooks said. “I am filled with respect, but I’m also filled with fear.”
The Cleveland legislator, who is working closely with the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council and the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs to bring a veterans home to Bradley County, said his fears are that coming generations will forget the sacrifices of America’s guardians.
“I stand here today with fear, fear that one day these great men and women, these heroes of our past, will be forgotten ... and their sacrifices will have been in vain,” the Cleveland legislator warned.
He added, “I stand here in fear that our children and our children’s children will one day forget the ultimate sacrifices that were given for our freedom ... freedom which is never free.”
Brooks pointed out others who came long before him have made similar pleas to America and her people.
“This cold morning as I stand here I’m also reminded of the words of a president who was taken from this life by a gunman’s bullet,” he pointed out. “His words echo in my mind today, as clear as he spoke them some 53 years ago.”
Referring to the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy, Brooks stated, “When standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on a cold morning much like today, he challenged all of us by declaring that the torch has been passed to a new generation. Let us not forget to pass this torch. Let us never forget what these graves represent.”
Such handing down of history can be done best by parents who “bring” their children, “tell” their children and “remind” their children of the sacrifices that are represented in national cemeteries like the one in Southeast Tennessee, he stressed.
“I am also reminded of the holy Scripture that tells us to instruct our children — to train up a child, to pass down this knowledge from generation to generation,” Brooks noted. “And at this important and reverent time of the year — what we call the Advent season — I am especially fearful of losing the freedoms to talk about the ultimate sacrifice given for you and me on a cross at Calvary.”
The legislator, a longtime communications professional for the Church of God International Offices, repeated his plea to instill in American children the country’s core values like patriotism, freedom, love, equality and worship.
“So today, I close this very short message by reminding all of us to teach our children, to train them well,” Brooks beseeched. “Like Joshua, remind them of what these stones — these hallowed headstones — represent here today.”
In closing, he quoted another former president.
“And finally, remind our children of the words of the great Ronald Reagan who warned, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’”
Brooks talked of his pride in helping to honor America’s fallen soldiers, and he praised those Saturday who made the decision to do so again.
“Thank you for honoring these men and women this morning,” he stressed. “Thank you for the placement of these wreaths to honor their sacrifice ... for ALL gave some, but here, these gave ALL.”
In almost a prayerful close, Brooks told his fellow patriots, “God bless you. God bless Tennessee. And may God continue to richly bless America.”
The Wreaths Across America and Civil Air Patrol program Saturday recognized a long list of registered sponsor groups that it credited with raising public awareness and financial support for the wreaths.
They included Children of the American Revolution, CAP-Chattanooga Composite Squadron, CAP-Choo Choo Senior Squadron, CAP-Cleveland Composite Squadron, CAP-Group 2 Tennessee Wing, CAP-Rhea County Composite Squadron, CAP-Tullahoma Composite Squadron, CAP Williamson County Cadet Squadron, Daughters of the American Revolution (Chapter 3014), Daughters of the American Revolution (Judge David Campbell), Sons of the American Revolution (Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter), Navy Seabee Veterans of America X24, Sequatchie Valley VFW Ladies Auxiliary and United States Merchant Marine Academy Alumni (Chattanooga Chapter).