MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- As Trudy Knight, wife of deceased Gunnery Sgt. Charles White, strolled through the grounds at the Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery on May 26, 2014 morning, she turned to four Marines in dress blues.
“I don’t care what the rules are,” she said. “I’m hugging each of you.” When she was done, Knight made her way to the rows folding chairs in front of the cemetery’s rose garden to await the start of the community’s annual Memorial Day Remembrance.
Organized by retired Marines — Col. Philip Cisneros, Gunnery Sgt. Andy Anderson, Master Sgt. Phil Garcia and Lt. Col. Jeff Matthews —working with cemetery staff, the Twentynine Palms Elks Lodge, Boy Scout Troop 229 and Cub Scout Pack 78, the ceremony featured the Combat Center Color Guard and Headquarters Battalion rifle detail, an invocation and benediction by Navy chaplain Capt. Steven Moses and words by guest speaker, Maj. Gen. David H. Berger, Combat Center Commanding General. The Scouts handed out programs to attendees and placed small American flags on the graves of each veteran before the ceremony.
As Cisneros’ ordered to “march on the colors,” the color guard came forward as the national anthem played and the audience of nearly 100 stood and saluted or held their hands over their hearts.
After Moses’ invocation, Cisneros introduced Berger.
“Of all things designated federal holidays, Memorial Day we might consider the most reverent and enduring day of remembrance,” Berger said. “Today, we remember fallen heroes. Those we remember personally, we grew up with, or so many others that are unknown to us. Those at this cemetery gave their all.”
Berger spoke of the thousands of American men and women who have given their lives on the world’s battlefields, saying he hoped people everywhere would take a moment out of their day to think about the fallen.
“They fought in the sea, they fought on land, they fought in the air,” he said. “They knew their buddy on their right and their left had their backs. In the darkest moments of combat, they relied on each other. It is up to us to never forget their sacrifice.”
After Berger’s speech, representatives from 15 community organizations and the Combat Center came forward one by one to place colorful wreaths in honor of America’s war dead.
The ceremony ended with Moses’ benediction and a 21-gun salute by a firing detail of seven Headquarters Battalion Marines firing three rounds each. The rounds echoed through the ceremony and between each volley a moment of complete silence made palpable the sacrifices of fallen warriors and their families.
As the crowd dispersed, many heading to a Memorial Day reception at the Elks Lodge, one lone Marine stayed behind. For more than an hour, Maj. Gen. Berger walked silently through the cemetery, stopping for a moment at gravesites bearing a flag.