UT Martin's Memorial Day Commemoration honors military, remembers sacrifices
Contact 1: Bud Grimes
MARTIN, Tenn. — Joe Walker and Joe Exum served in different wars, but both have the same appreciation for military service and for Memorial Day’s significance. They both experienced firsthand the sacrifices made by those in the military, and they joined others at the University of Tennessee at Martin’s 17th annual Memorial Day Commemoration held at 9 a.m., Friday, May 26, on the front lawn of the Hall-Moody Administration Building. Sacrifice was the theme of remarks offered by keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Tommy Baker, the assistant adjutant general of the U.S. Army, Tennessee National Guard. Baker is a Huntingdon native and a 1995 UT Martin graduate.
Walker is a Martin resident and a World War II veteran who served from 1943-46 with the U.S. Army combat engineers. He and his fellow soldiers built more than 40 bridges across Europe following the Allied invasion of Normandy, France. Memorial Day is an annual reminder that the sacrifices made in past wars are not forgotten. “Well, it brings to memory the military from way back, and to me it (Memorial Day) really shows the appreciation of the community and all for this great country,” said Walker, a 49-year university employee who worked in the physical plant and housing. He also lost a brother in the war, making Memorial Day especially meaningful.
Exum, also of Martin, is a 1969 UT Martin graduate and member of the university’s Army ROTC Battalion during his time at the university. He served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971 and then later in the Tennessee National Guard. Exum was a platoon leader and later acting company commander during the Vietnam War, rising to the rank of captain. He later served as company commander in the Tennessee National Guard. “It (Memorial Day) means more and more to me, I guess, the older I get,” Exum said. “Finally some recognition is being given to veterans that, maybe in years past, not so much (recognition has been given). It’s more of even a popular thing now to see people come and attend (Memorial Day observances) and have appreciation for the people that are serving our country.”
Perfect weather provided the backdrop for the event as the university’s Army ROTC Battalion presented the colors, followed by the singing of the national anthem by Dr. Roberto Mancusi, UT Martin associate professor of music. Timothy McClain, president of the Skyhawk Veteran’s Association, gave the invocation, and UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver welcomed attendees.
Carver, attending his first Memorial Day Commemoration as university chancellor, introduced the speaker but first read a poem written by his mother in honor of his grandfather and his grandfather’s twin brother from Crockett Mills, Tenn. Both enlisted in the military in the last 1930s and served in three wars. After reading the poem he said, “And I’m honored to be associated with a university that every year makes sure that a part of our legacy, part of the fabric of this institution, is to celebrate and honor Memorial Day, which is just so incredibly important.”
Brig. Gen. Tommy Baker enlisted as a private in the Tennessee National Guard in 1980, graduated in 1981 from Huntingdon High School, and was commissioned in 1985 after five years of enlisted service. He completed his UT Martin education as a non-traditional student and became a full-time guard member in 2001. Today, he is responsible for the training and supervision of 13,000 soldiers and airmen in the Tennessee National Guard. He opened his remarks by thanking retired general officers and veterans for their service and those in the audience for their attendance. “It’s really about the fact that you took the time to show up and honor our country’s fallen,” he said as he acknowledged the large crowd.
Baker noted that Memorial Day was established by presidential decree May 5, 1868, and observed later that month with the decoration of Confederate and Union graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. “Unlike Veterans Day, it (Memorial Day) honors those who have given all,” he said. “Since George Washington commanded the Continental Army, 42 million Americans have served the colors. A million of them have been killed in its (the country’s) defense. Another million-and-a-half have been wounded. The human toll has been extraordinary.
“We gather here today to honor those Americans who died while defending their country and for fighting for something they believed in. As Americans we are free to pursue our hopes and dreams all because of their sacrifice.”
Baker reminded the audience that Memorial Day retains its significance as the country remains at war. “Americans in the past kept Memorial Day rather quietly, pausing to remember at least for a little while, the kind of men and women that so willingly gave the last full measure,” he said. “And a new ‘greatest generation’ continues to fight and struggle against the merciless enemy on our behalf in Afghanistan, in places all around the globe. They are the best our country produces and have consciously put every American above their own self interests.”
Baker reported more than 6,700 military men and women from all branches of military service, including 22 Tennessee National Guardsmen, have been killed in action since 911. “Some would portray these as victims, but they are not victims,” he said. “They knew what they were about and were doing what they wanted to do.”
“Because of their (the military’s) sacrifices, and because of who came before them, we are still a free people,” Baker said as he closed. “The debt we owe all of them cannot be expressed in word or deed, but we must simply utter a passionate ‘thank you’ from the depths of our hearts. Thanks to you for coming here today and continuing to honor their service and sacrifice.”
Lt. Col. Lowell Howard Jr., UT Martin professor of military science, concluded the program by recalling President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery. “Mr. Reagan reminded us that today is the day we put aside to remember our fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again,” Howard said. “It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who are at rest. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.”
A rifle salute followed by the UT Martin Department of Public Safety and Martin Police Department, and taps were played by UT Martin student Chloe Lollar, a junior music major from Humboldt.
PHOTO ID – Brig. Gen. Tommy Baker, the assistant adjutant general of the U.S. Army, Tennessee National Guard, offered the keynote address during UT Martin’s 17th annual Memorial Day Commemoration held at 9 a.m., Friday, May 26, on the front lawn of the Hall-Moody Administration Building. Baker is a Huntingdon native and a 1995 UT Martin graduate.