By Senior Master Sgt. Warren Relaford, 28th Operations Group
/ Published January 08, 2011
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- It was one of the coldest mornings of the winter season thus far, when we gathered at the Black Hills National Cemetery.
The temperature was a scant 14 degrees and the winds made it feel sub-zero.
I was one of hundreds who sacrificed the warmth of his or her home on this Saturday morning to honor the veterans of South Dakota and around the world.
At the gathering place, we all huddled together in an attempt to keep warm. The speaker instructed the different military service representatives to lay a ceremonial wreath given in posterity for the servicemembers who rested beneath us. With wreaths in hand, we formed a make-shiftline in which to place them at the graves.
As I looked out across the frozen acres of headstones, the cemetery diagram seemed hardly adequate enough to guide me through the vastness to my stone. Despite the snow, ice and bitter cold, I set out on my journey to honor the person for whom I held the wreath. Several times during my search for the headstone, while the wind lashed mercilessly at my exposed face, I had to remind myself that the menial sacrifice I was making on this morning was nothing compared to the sacrifices of those that lay beneath me. I continued the search.
I stopped to knock the snow and ice from a sign post, and then checked it against the cemetery map. I was almost there - one more section to go. Upon reaching Section H, I took a moment to pay my dutiful respect to the many veterans that were laid to rest around me. Again, I was reminded of their sacrifice, not mine.
Although the names of the veterans were on the headstones, they were in no particular order and it was more efficient to navigate by the number on the back of the headstone. Unfortunately, the backs of the grave markers showed the weathering effects of the elements brought by the changing season. I began to scrape the backs of random headstones.
At last, amidst the crusted snow and ice, I located my "stone". After carefully placing the wreath at the site, I rendered a solemn salute to honor the sacrifices including the ultimate sacrifice of #384. Friends and family remember #384 as U.S. Marine Pfc. Kenneth Lee Roy McDowell. Today was a special day for me. As it turned out, it was not a sacrifice at all, but rather a privilege and reward. Experiences like these put our freedoms into perspective; and seeing Private McDowell's name on that headstone made me realize that it is ordinary people like you and me that have the awesome responsibility of making sure we stay free.