By Jackie Stone
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - Ursula Pirtle thanked the audience at the Harker Heights Memorial Day ceremony and the speakers who had held the podium before her for not saying "Happy Memorial Day" Monday.
The Gold Star spouse who lost her husband in 2003 said it was important to remember Memorial Day as a solemn, reverent occasion, while also enjoying the waving flags and smiling faces of children during the parade that came before the ceremony.
"It is all about that balance," Pirtle said. "It is honoring the sacrifice that some have had to pay, but it's also about appreciating what you still have and knowing that every day you are so fortunate to wake up free in this country and in this community."
Pirtle spoke about the significance of Memorial Day as both an immigrant who came to America from Germany as a child and as a widow.
Her voice choked up as she thanked those who attended the ceremony in the blazing heat.
"I really hope that when you leave, if nothing else, that you know how much it means when people truly stop and take a bit of their lives, a bit of their families, a minute of their long weekend, to honor our families, our soldiers and our nation," Pirtle said.
The crowd gave Pirtle a standing ovation after her speech in front of the Veterans Monument at City Hall. There were tears, applause and stoic faces framed by salutes throughout the ceremony as people from around Central Texas remembered fallen Americans from all branches of the military - and the families they left behind.
Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, Fort Hood's acting senior mission commander, said the loss of each fallen soldier touches "literally thousands of lives."
"No medals or amount of money can replace that loss, and it's up to us those remaining in formation in uniform and to the citizens of the country they served to make sure the price they paid for freedom is neither squandered nor surrendered," he said.
Dozens of Army veterans and active-duty soldiers sang quietly along as the 1st Cavalry Band played the Army song.
Later, representatives from local veterans organizations laid a wreath on the monument and fired three volleys in salute.
Diana Yglecias and her sister Irma Marquez drove in from Austin and Round Rock to spend Memorial Day with their father, retired Sgt. Maj. Jose Marquez, who lives in Killeen.
The family has three generations of military service, with Yglecias' husband and son also giving years to the service.
Irma Marquez said she and her siblings return to Fort Hood, where they grew up, for the holiday every year. And they bring their children to teach them about the tradition.
"It's important to make sure to give respect to those that have fallen before, and those families that have not been as lucky as we have," Marquez said.
Contact Jackie Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7474. Follow her on Twitter at KDHcoveeditor.