Looking around Hillcrest Memorial Park under an azure sky late Monday morning, it was easy to pick out which graves were those of veterans. Each was marked with a small American flag. Scores of the mini-flags rippled in the light breeze on Memorial Day.
"We are surrounded by patriots who could not tell the story of their return (from war)," said Wally Hicks, keynote speaker at the annual Grants Pass Memorial Day ceremony.
Hicks, a state representative and Marine Corps combat veteran, then went on to say that the little bit of information etched into each headstone falls short of telling the true story of a veteran's service.
At some Memorial Day services, numbers are cited to describe the tens of thousands of men and women who have died defending our nation. On Monday, Hicks chose to focus on the story of a single hero who gave her life in the line of duty.
Jennifer Jean Harris was in the graduating class of 2000 from the U.S. Naval Academy, the same graduating class as Hicks. As a child, she cared for her mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. This is where she developed her passion for helping others, Hicks told the crowd of about 200 people.
Harris, a native of Swampscott, Mass., was a pilot who served three tours of duty in Iraq and rose to the rank of captain, Hicks said. Among her comrades, she was referred to as "The Dove," because, in addition to flying, she was "the prettiest and calmest person in the war zone," Hicks said.
In 2007, she volunteered for a dangerous mission to evacuate wounded soldiers from a combat zone. During the mission, she was shot down and died at the age of 28.
"The Dove flew so that others might live," Hicks said.
Hicks then said it's important for everyone to ponder why the sacrifice of Harris and thousands of others is so important.
"A person willing to kill one of us or some of us is willing to kill all of us," he said. "The only way to stand up to someone who is willing to kill is to stand up and be willing to die."
Monday's service was hosted by the Marine Corps League, and the master of ceremonies was Jim Hale of the Marine Corps League. Many local veterans' organizations participated by posting colors or by laying wreaths during the ceremony.
The invocation and benediction were offered by the Rev. Jim Boston, a retired Naval chaplain. The "Star Spangled Banner" and other patriotic songs were performed by Janeen McGinnis. Taps was performed Sgt. Devon Zeller of the Army National Guard.