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      The free honor the brave at patriotic ceremonies

      America's heroes- both the fallen and the enlisted- were given tribute Monday at Memorial Day ceremonies around Amarillo.

      Clear skies and a light breeze made for an enjoyable morning atLlano Cemetery. American flags lined the drive and made waves across the military graves.

      The Caprock High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC presented the colors as vintage aircraft roared in the skies above. Retired Staff Sgt. Earl Clift gave the invocation.

      "All the ceremonies that we have for the veterans- it helps them very much," Clift said. "It helps the families and we try to help the families also."

      After the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, Former U.S. Soldier Stephanie Steelman gave her memorial address. Perhaps the most memorable of her words were those she quoted of President Abraham Lincoln in the letter he wrote to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War.

      "Dear Madam, I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."

      Following Steelman's speech was the laying of the wreath and "Taps."

      Clift added ceremonies are necessary- necessary for the families who grieve and for the veterans who fight their own battles every day.

      "We appreciate all the service people and enjoy working with them very much. We appreciate them and everybody should appreciate our veterans."

      Another celebration was hosted at theTexas Panhandle War Memorial- more than 1,000 people were in attendance.

      "This is to honor all our men and women that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, for our freedom," Retired Staff Sgt. Fred Rangel stated, "and a lot of people forget that. I mean, they think it's just a three-day holiday."

      The Hereford U.S. Marine Corps Junior ROTC presented the colors, followed by the National Anthem, the flyover and the Pledge of Allegiance. Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole was the guest speaker, telling of his experiences in Vietnam and passing out photos for reference. After giving background to the men in the picture, Harpole began fighting tears as he told of their deaths, their miracles and his life-changing experience. Many in the crowd seemed touched by his story, as they too began to cry. For those who have not been in combat, it was tears of a sad story. For those who have seen the battlegrounds, it was tears of memories and their fallen brothers and sisters.

      When the mayor finished his speech, a wreath was presented and veterans saluted to their services. John Brewer concluded the ceremony, playing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes (Yvonne Salisbury sang vocals) and "Echo Taps."

      "You have to look at liberty, justice and freedom that you have," Rangel said. "You have prosperity. Not all the countries have this and America is one that is. It's because of our fallen heroes and also the one that serve to keep it that way."

      Members of the crowds saluted, placed hands over hearts and cried for the men and women who died fighting for the freedoms people get to enjoy every day. Monday's services offered comfort, closure and respect for the fallen heroes of America- a tribute to all who gave some and to some who gave all.