HARKER HEIGHTS — Honoring those servicemen and -women who answered the call to protect the nation, often making the ultimate sacrifice to ensure freedom still rings, took center stage Saturday.

“We have gathered during a time of war on the last 12 Memorial Days and have honored the 6,700 men and women who have given their lives in defense of our country since 9/11,” Brig. Gen. Clark W. LeMasters Jr., commander of the 13th Sustainment Command, said during a ceremony at the Veterans Monument in front of City Hall. “The true meaning of Memorial Day is that we never forget the sacrifices made by so many. It is up to us to ensure that their loved ones died for a purpose.”

The ceremony wrapped up a morning of events.

American flags both led and anchored the 16th annual MDA Pat Patton 5k run Saturday morning at the Harker Heights Community Park.

Organized by ERA Colonial Real Estate in Heights, the event featured more than 160 runners, many of them wearing red, white and blue, as they took off from the starting line.

Instead of traditional running attire, Heights resident Michael Stokke, who serves with the Texas National Guard, donned combat boots and a 54-pound ruck sack.

“I serve for the people in the state of Texas and whenever they call upon me, I answer,” he said, repositioning the American flag resting on his shoulder.

As the run wrapped up, the city’s annual Memorial Day parade, put on by the Harker Heights Veterans Council, was ramping up at Harker Heights High School.

The 1st Cavalry Division’s Horse Detachment led the parade, while the 1st Cavalry Division Band provided patriotic tunes for the enthusiastic residents who lined Knight’s Way, waving American flags as the parade rolled along.

“I really like seeing the police cars and the Army trucks,” said Jackson Hare, 5, waving his flag at a 3rd Cavalry Regiment Stryker.

Other parade participants included the Harker Heights fire and police departments, Harker Heights High School’s cheerleaders, dance teams and JROTC, Heights Kiwanis and Lions clubs, H-E-B, city officials and several veterans groups.

For Earl Williams, commander of Heights Chapter 1876 Military Order of the Purple Heart, participating in the parade is another way for him to honor veterans and to show support for service members and their families.

“We are here for the ones who are still here to show them they have not been forgotten,” he said.

The thoughts expressed at the ceremony and wreath-laying, at the conclusion of the parade, followed the common theme of giving praise to soldiers, past and present, and their family members.

“Our ceremony brings home the reason why we’re here and that’s to remember those men and women who gave their lives in support of our country,” said Pat Christ, a veteran and member of the Heights City Council.

Contact Vanessa Lynch at vlynch@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7567.

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