Amidst a host of holiday activities, the Paducah area paused to honor local men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country during several Memorial Day ceremonies Monday.
Ceremonies were held at Oak Grove Cemetery, the McCracken County Courthouse and the Dolly McNutt Memorial Plaza.
Family and friends of Sgt. Christopher T. Heflin and Master Sgt. Aaron C. Torian were in attendance at an afternoon ceremony at the Korean War Memorial in front of the McCracken County Courthouse. The two marines were killed in action, Heflin in November 2004 in the Anbar province of Iraq, and Torian in the Helmand province of Afghanistan this past February.
Each year, the McCracken County Fiscal Court honors those who have given their lives for their country. Commemorative street signs bearing each soldier's name will be displayed for a year in front of the courthouse, then placed permanently at a location chosen by family members, according to McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry.
"We're here to honor two of McCracken County's sons," said Gary Hovekamp, a U.S. Marine Vietnam veteran and former McCracken County judge-executive, who was also the featured speaker. "They chose to wear the proud uniform of the United States Marine Corps ... they volunteered to defend and protect our freedom and our way of life."
Both men volunteered during a time of war. The two "knew the commitment could mean their life, but they willingly assumed that risk," Hovekamp said. "The honor of recognizing these two Marines humbles me. They are a testimony to a proud tradition. Let us never forget their sacrifices and valor, as we remember all of the other United States servicemen and women who paid with their life."
Aaron Torian's brother, Nathan, a firefighter with the Paducah Fire Department, was among the family members in attendance. "It's humbling," he said of the ceremony. "I've been to these events several times before in my life, but it's never been one of my own family."
Heflin's mother, Melissa Hampton, appreciated the show of respect for her son's service and the sign to honor him. "It was a very nice remembrance," she said. "But, I remember him every day. It still feels like it's not real that he's gone."
Earlier Monday, several local veteran's organizations held a brief ceremony at Oak Grove Cemetery, which included a wreath laying at the Doughboy Monument.
Representatives of the Paducah American Legion Post 31, Veterans of Foreign Wars Jackson Harris Post 1191 and the Disabled American Veterans participated in the joint remembrance.
Al Crawford, retired master chief with the U.S. Army, was the featured speaker. He gave a brief history of the holiday observance, originally known as Decoration Day.
Throughout history, Americans have paused to "honor those who died securing peace and our freedom," Crawford said. "It is important not only to recognize their service but their devotion to duty. And, to ensure the purposes for which they fought will never be forgotten."
Later that night, the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 337, held their 30th annual wreath laying and memorial ceremony at Dolly McNutt Memorial Plaza.
Guest speaker Kevin Neal, a Marine Corps veteran and operations sergeant with the Paducah Police Department, described the event as a way to honor "the heroes who join us today and those who are here only in spirit."
"Many of them didn't ask to leave their homes to fight on distant battlefields. Many didn't even volunteer. They didn't go to war because they loved fighting," he explained. "They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times. They rose to the nation's call because they wanted to protect a nation which has given them, us, so much."
Neal spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and was deployed on three tours to Iraq. He remembered his comrades in uniform, those who gave their lives for our freedom, and he honored the families who were left behind.
"Today, people throughout the country will gather to remember, to honor, and to pay gratitude to those who have served our country...It's not a lot, but it's one small way we can honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live in freedom."
Carrie Dillard, staff writer, contributed to this article.
Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.