It was quite a homecoming for Erica Christie Monday morning.
Christie, a major in the Kansas National Guard who grew up in Iola as Erica Hillbrant, gave the Memorial Day address at Highland Cemetery. Afterward she was swarmed by congratulatory relatives and friends.
Christie earned degrees at Allen County Community College and Washburn University after being graduated from Iola High School in 1985. Today she is the executive officer of troops stationed at the Kansas National Guard armory in Hays.
Christie told more than 200 who gathered for the Memorial Day ceremonies that many people aren’t aware of “why we observe this national holiday,” and that they confuse it with Veterans Day.
“Unlike Veterans Day, which is an opportunity to publicly commemorate the contributions of all veterans, Memorial Day is a sacred day of remembrance for all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to our country,” she said.
For more than 230 years, Americans have “followed a system of values central to all we do … of selfless service and sacrifice and even loss of their lives,” to protect freedom, Christie said.
“Serving in the armed forces of the United States has always been a noble calling,” Christie observed. “Today’s soldiers are very cognizant of those who have gone before them.”
This year, she said, “We are once again involved in hostilities in foreign lands. Our service members are fighting and dying for the ideals that our nation holds so dear.
“The youth of our nation continue to fight and die for a cause larger than themselves … part of an unending line of proud citizens who answered our nation’s call to duty. It is their service around the world, and especially in the combat zones, that mark their sacrifice.”
Christie herself served for a year in Iraq.
She said families also sacrifice when they “answer the call to duty with their unwavering support of their loved ones who are in harm’s way.”
She encouraged her listeners to “do two things in the coming weeks: visit the gravesites of fallen soldiers and silently thank them for their service, and reach out and shake the hand of a soldier, whether it’s someone in uniform standing in line at the grocery checkout or a veteran standing along a parade route saluting Old Glory as she passes by.
“Tell them you understand the depths of their commitment, tell them you are in awe of their bravery, simply tell them, ‘Thank you for your service.’
“Our most potent weapon in this war (on terrorism) is the brave men and women in uniform,” Christie concluded.
PRIOR to Christie’s comments, wreaths were placed at the obelisk that overlooks veterans’ graves. Doing the honors were Jeff Heinrich, commander of the American Legion; Wanda Lytle, president of the Legion Auxiliary; John Stranghoner, commander of Sons of the American Legion; Martin Henderson, chef de gare of the 40 et 8; and Jeri Myers, president of La Societe de Femme of the 40 et 8.
A salute to the dead was fired by Moran American Legion and LaHarpe Veterans of Foreign Wars firing squad. Bill LaPorte, Moran, played Taps.
The Iola Municipal Band performed the national anthem and “America the Beautiful.” The Rev. Steve Traw gave the invocation and benediction. Placing the colors were David Donovan, Bob Payne and Stanley Dreher.
The annual ceremony was put together by Heinrich and Tim Emmons.