“Freedom isn’t free”: Vicksburg celebrates Memorial Day with parade, service

Published 1:52 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Col. Teresa Schlosser realized the true meaning of Memorial Day in December 2008.

Schlosser, commander of the U.S. Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center, said at that time her unit, the 84th Engineer Battalion, had just arrived in Mosul, Iraq, to relieve the 94th Engineer Battalion.

“So we’re doing a relief-in-place operation and our units are mixed and they’re showing us the terrain around Mosul, and what we’re taking over,” she said. “That day, Dec. 4, 2008, we had a combined convoy that was struck by a massive vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, instantly killing Sgt. Solomon Sam from the 84th, and Sgt. John Savage, from the 94th. Both units were devastated.

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“That was the first time that I lost a soldier in combat. That was the first day I realized exactly what Memorial Day is,” Schlosser added.

Schlosser was the featured speaker for Vicksburg’s Memorial Day service, held as part of the city’s 43rd annual Memorial Day activities. This year’s program and parade marked the return of an in-person event after going virtual for two years because of COVID 19. The theme was “Lest We Forget.”

“Memorial Day has been a day to get out on the water, put meat on the grill and be with friends,” said Rick Martin, a member of American Legion Post 3.

However, Martin said, the loss of soldiers who died in combat has affected the lives of their families who had to learn to adjust to the loss.

“These young lives lost will never see their sons play baseball or walk their daughters down the aisle,” he said. “They’ll never see the potential they could have reached.

“More than 1 million men and women have lost their lives fighting in our wars,” Martin added. “It’s been 104 years since the end of World War I and 77 years since the end of World War 2 and since then, we have had a seemingly endless stream of conflicts from Korea to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Since the death of sergeants Sam and Savage in December 2008, Schlosser said, she has come to realize “what an amazing day Memorial Day is as a nation. When I think about it, it’s truly an American holiday and a day of remembrance.”

She recalled that Memorial Day began in Waterloo, N.Y., in 1866 when communities gathered for hours to decorate the soldiers’ graves.

“Union or Confederate, it didn’t matter,” she said. “They went to honor their soldiers. They called it Decoration Day because they used the flowers to decorate the graves. It soon took hold — again, grassroots — there was nothing special about it.”

In 1868, she said, the practice of decorating graves became a tradition when they placed flowers and flags at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It quickly became known as Memorial Day or Decoration Day. It wasn’t chosen for any special event other than in May, throughout our great nation, there are almost always spring flowers wherever you go.

“So this was a holiday, a remembrance day, that was created by us,” Schlosser said. “It was created by our communities, not by our government but by our desire to recognize our service members who gave all to the country that they serve and loved.

“We remember those, because it’s actually true — freedom isn’t free,” she added. “There is a cost to freedom. And we pay it today. We have soldiers still in harm’s way. We’re still losing them.”

Fortunately, she said, the country loses a lot less than in an official conflict, but soldiers are in harm’s way.

“And that’s okay. That’s what we volunteer to do. It’s our privilege.”

Schlosser said it is her honor to serve, adding, “When people thank me for my service, I sincerely tell them, ‘I have the best job in the entire world.’ I get to serve a grateful nation. I get to help people. I get to lead in my country.

That’s not common everywhere in the world.

“So your service members, we are proud to serve,” she said. “None of us want to pay that full price, but we’re ready to because we want our families and our friends to occasionally, or often, forget what Memorial Day is truly about, to let them celebrate their freedoms and their boating days and their barbecues; to celebrate their time with one another. That’s what our service members want to do.”

Schlosser asked people to take time at 3 o’clock, “which is our typical day-change,” and take a moment of silence Monday to just remember those the country has lost.

“Service members and others; we don’t mind sharing. Take a moment today to know they weren’t lost in vain, because we have an amazing nation that continues to grow and learn and care for one another,” she said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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