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Community gives thanks for freedom

Servicemen, officials and citizens gather at the Patriots Field of Flags Ceremony Tuesday at the Albany Mall. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)

Servicemen, officials and citizens gather at the Patriots Field of Flags Ceremony Tuesday at the Albany Mall. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)

ALBANY — “The price of freedom is high. We never want people to forget.”

These were the words spoken by Curtis “Ray” Humphrey, commander of American Legion Post 30, Tuesday night as a solemn crowd of veterans, service members and citizens of all ages gathered at the Albany Mall to remember a day no one will ever forget.

Against a backdrop of hundreds of American flags and crosses representing those lost in battle, the Patriots Field of Flags Ceremony provided a time for all gathered to honor the sacrifices of others, remember, and say thank you. Because those few moments of respite from the world’s daily pressures and troubles did not come free — someone else fought for them.

This year’s ceremony marked the 11th year of remembrance of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, when thousands were killed in attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the downing of Flight 93, which failed to reach the terrorists’ target of the U.S. Capitol.

City, county and Marine Corps officials spoke throughout the evening, recalling their own memories and giving thanks for those who fight and those who respond.

“We often take our freedoms for granted,” said Albany City Commissioner Christopher Pike. “First responders often have a thankless job; we need to remember to always thank them.”

“This country was built on moments like this,” said Jeff Sinyard, chairman of the Dougherty County Commission. “You’re here tonight because you’re a patriot, and have passion for this nation . We have to hope that people keep showing up and never forget.”

Maj. Gen. John Broadmeadow, commander of Marine Corps Logistics Command, thanked the Albany community. “Before my wife, Karen, and I moved here, we kept hearing about what a wonderful community this was,” he said.” It’s true, and the fact that you are here today is representation of that fact.

“What we do is hard, and when folks take the time to remember the sacrifices of young men — it’s special.”

Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany Commander Col. Donald J. Davis agreed. “We can’t say thank you enough for being here tonight and making sure that we don’t forget. From all of us at the base, thank you for your service.”

Nestled between the flags proudly displaying the American colors are 146 crosses representing soldiers from Dougherty and Lee counties who have died in battle since World War I. Each cross was hand-built by Bill Brooks, and stand as a reminder that freedom is never free.

A memorial honoring World War II soldiers will be unveiled at Veterans Park in November. The ceremony will take place on Veterans Day in accordance with remembrance of the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany to end hostilities on the Western Front on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. — the eleventh month, day and hour.

For every soldier who falls, many more friends and family members are left behind. The Patriot Guard Riders make it their mission to help these grieving families. Humphrey made a special presentation to the Patriot Guard in recognition of their efforts.

The Patriot Guard Riders attend the funeral services of Americans as invited guests of the family. Their basic objectives are to show respect and shield mourning families from interruptions created by protesters.

“We see these families on the very worst days of their lives,” said one local rider. “Though overwhelmed families probably won’t remember much from that day, they can look back later at comments left on the website and see that there are those out there who remember and respect their fallen heroes.”

The speaker for the evening was retired U.S. Army Col. Mayo “Biff” Hadden, who recalled the memories of four friends he lost on 9/11.

“No words can put into meaning what you feel if you stop, look, and remember,” Hadden said. “Those in the armed forces train and prepare to travel and fight in a war we hope will never happen.

“But circumstances beyond our control can change lives forever. We saw it at Pearl Harbor; we saw it at 9/11.”

Hadden ended his speech with a soldier’s creed, saying that it applies to all who serve, whether in law enforcement, emergency services, or other institutions: “I was born free by accident, I live free by choice, I will die free as obligation.”