Sgt. Joshua Peyton can remember May 28, 2004 vividly. He had just been deployed to Iraq two months before and was riding in a rear vehicle in a U.S. Army convoy when soldiers were hit by improvised explosive devices.
“We had to go up and help the front vehicle,” he recalled. When his vehicle pulled alongside the front one, he found his good friend, Michael Curtis Campbell, dead. The driver of the front vehicle had been hit by shrapnel.
“The driver was screaming for his mommy,” Peyton remembered. “The chaplain came up and put him in his arms and calmed him down.”
It was this side of war that a new soldier was not quite prepared to see.
“I felt like giving up,” Peyton said. “But I remember what my grandfather told me, ‘if you get shot at, shoot back.’ From then on I was an inspired soldier.”
It was Peyton’s contribution to his country, and the contributions of so many others, that were the focus of Sunday’s Veterans Memorial Service at Woodland Cemetery.
Each year the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade Committee gathers in the soldier’s section of the cemetery to honor both the fallen service men and women and those who are serving their country today.
Peyton told those who gathered at the cemetery that America is the protector of the world and has been since Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and unleashed U.S. fury in World War II.
He told the story of then-President George Bush meeting with NATO leaders before the war in Iraq and discussing his thoughts on invading the country. In the room were a plain spoken U.S. Congressman and a French politician.
The Frenchman demanded to know why Bush wanted to go to war with Iraq and kept questioning the president about it.
The congressman asked the Frenchman if he spoke German. The Frenchman replied that he didn’t and the congressman immediately said, “You’re welcome,” a statement about U.S. involvement in the liberation of France in WWII.
VFW Ohio State Commander Leon Johnson praised the American service men and women for their fortitude and devotion to duty in spite of the terror, the grief and longing that often besets those so far from home and in harm’s way.
“They carried the weight of the world and the weight of every free citizen and many of them carried each other,” Johnson said. He praised those serving in today but warned that, “Victory will not come without a cost in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Johnson said as Americans prepare the celebrate Memorial Day, “Across the land thousands of American flags proudly wave on graves of soldiers, sailors and airmen whose lives were cut short so we may enjoy the blessings of liberty.”
Master of ceremonies Mark McCown noted that, “For 142 years, citizens have gathered to pay homage to those who committed themselves to the defense of this great nation,” in the form of the parade at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
But on the day before the parade, those who gathered at Woodland would take a more solemn view of the cost of our country’s defense.
The Rev. Chad Pemberton said in his invocation he was grateful for those who attended the service and hoped what was said and done would honor those who had sacrificed their lives in service to their country.
Herb Rose and the Qualitones provided patriotic musical selections, Officers of the VFW 8850 and American Legion 433 laid memorial wreaths. Bugler Zach Jenkins played “Taps” while the VFW 8850 provide the gunnery salute and color guard.
Attention now turns to the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade at 10 a.m. today in Ironton.