A Memorial Day ceremony was held at the newly dedicated White Sands Missile Range Memorial Park May 20. WSMR Army Community Services teamed up with Garrison leadership to rededicate the formerly known Volunteer Park in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“This is the first time we had a (Memorial Day event) this size,” said WSMR Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Jesus DeGracia. “ACS came up with the idea to conduct the ceremony so we just jumped in to help them out. It’s the least we can do. There are thousands of lives that have been lost and we owe them and their families the respect of doing something that lets them know they’re not forgotten.”
The ceremony consisted of a 21 gun salute, bugler from the 1st Armored Division, and a performance by the White Sands School Choir. The WSMR Fire Department also participated by raising a large American flag from a ladder fire truck for the event.
WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. Timothy Coffin and WSMR Garrison Commander Col. Brian Michelson joined to unveil the newly dedicated Memorial Park plaque.
“There are no words, no actions…no songs we can sing, nothing that I can say here from this podium that’s going to consecrate this ground more than the sacrifices and the lives that we honor and we commemorate,” Coffin said during his remarks.
Coffin went on to ask the audience to reflect on the meaning and history of Memorial Day.
“We didn’t have Memorial Day when I was growing up, it was happening but it wasn’t recognized on the federal calendar. This is relatively new. It was in the 1960’s that it was codified as the last Monday in May that we would remember this day as Memorial Day,” said Coffin.
More than 40 local 4th and 5th grade choir students paid tribute by singing God Bless America during the ceremony.
“To me it means that we are supporting something very important and that everyone should take a moment to recognize Memorial Day every year. I would tell my friends to pay attention and that it is very important to honor those who have served and sacrificed their lives,” said Aubrianna Martinez, a 5th grade student.
Along with inviting the local community, Team WSMR also invited two distinguished guests who lost loved ones while serving in the U.S. Army.
Felicia Hale, a Las Cruces resident, attended the ceremony in honor of her daughter Spc. Donella R. Mackmiller, 21, who collapsed while on active duty at Ft. Bliss, Texas. She died two days later December 1, 2003, in the hospital.
“I came today to honor her memory. Her duty is done and my duty now is to honor her,” Hale said.
Sandra Widner, from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, attended the ceremony in honor of her son Spc. Vernon R. Widner, 34. Widner died November 17, 200,5 in Tikrit, Iraq, of injuries sustained earlier that day when his Humvee was involved in a vehicle accident during convoy operations in Bayji, Iraq.
“I brought him home and I buried him here at home where he belongs. That way he can be with his family,” Widner said.
“As you can see by the families and DoD civilians that have shown up today it is important to conduct these types of ceremonies and be able to rename this park in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” DeGracia added.