JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — There were Memorial Day ceremonies across the Tri-Cities, but perhaps none were more special than at Mountain Home National Cemetery.
It is the final resting place for thousands of service members from the Tri-Cities. There’s always a solemn feeling at Mountain Home, but it is heightened on Memorial Day.
Whether walking the hallowed grounds of the cemetery or attending the Memorial Day ceremony in the morning, people came out to pay their respects to those lost in service.
“It’s a day that our country pauses to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Tennessee Department of Veteran’s Services General Tommy Baker. “We as a nation really need to take that time on a three-day weekend to stop and think about all the freedoms we enjoy and why we have the freedom we have, and to me that’s what makes this day special.”
Monday’s ceremony marked the first time the ceremony has been held without any restrictions since the pandemic.
The ceremony was led by the traditional playing of Taps and bagpipes. There was also a ceremonial wreath laying by a mock-up of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Ben Foy led the ceremony. He’s not a veteran himself but has advocated for veterans through the organization Rolling Thunder.
“A lot of people think it’s a celebration, but it’s not,” Foy said. “It’s a reflection and a remembrance and the honor and the love that they had for us to give that last full measure.”
This Memorial Day, Foy said he is thinking about the service members classified as prisoners of war and missing in action who never received a proper burial.
“For a long time, the government didn’t do anything,” Foy said. “Rolling Thunder was started for that purpose to bring awareness and accountability of those who never got to come home.”
Ask any staff member at Mountain Home, and they will tell you they treat every day like it’s Memorial Day.
“We have 127 standards and measures that we follow,” said Mountain Home National Cemetery Director Sue Jehlen. “We take all of those seriously.”
Baker delivered the keynote speech at the ceremony. He said Mountain Home is a place of honor for those lost during their service to the nation.
“It’s so pristine,” Baker said. “It’s so reverent. It’s such an honorable place. The grounds are kept in such a meticulous manner befitting of the heroes that are here.”
Most of the workers at Mountain Home are veterans or family members of veterans, so this Memorial Day ceremony made an impact not only on those who come, but for those who make it happen.
“Knowing that I share with all of those people that have lost loved ones, I do get emotional when that’s played, and we do that for every veteran,” Jehlen said.
On Saturday, volunteers laid American flags at every grave site in the cemetery.