FORT POLK – Military personnel, their families and government officials gathered Thursday to remember and commemorate those who lost their lives in the line of service at a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Polk.
For those with close military ties, Memorial Day symbolizes different experiences and aspects.
"There are 96 names on the memorial behind me," JRTC and Fort Polk commander Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank said. "I think that represents for our Gold Star Families, soldiers in uniform and our Army families a very significant Memorial Day as we see our 10th Mountain soldiers return from in theater, and all of our deployments that our families have been a part of. It is a significant observance for all of us."
Brig. Gen. Frank gave the keynote speech at the ceremony, which included music, laying of reefs, 21 gun salute and a reading of the names of fallen soldiers.
Robin Goodwin, a Gold Star Mother, lost her son, Spec. Alexander Missildine, in a roadside bomb explosion in October 2017 in Iraq.
Goodwin was in attendance at the event, along with other Gold Star Families, and reflected on her son's path.
"My son knew that he wanted to be a soldier from about the time he was four years old," Goodwin said. "Right about the time that 9/11 happened, he really started talking about it, and God told him from a really young age what his destiny in life was going to be. He fully embodied everything that an American soldier is; strong, faithful, dedicated, patriotic.
"All of the events that have happened since then kind of blur together, but in the end, everything has been very honorable of our son. I think, as Americans, we have to remember to not take that for granted and each and every day, recall that there are still women and men that put themselves right in the line of danger by choice."
Thursday gave Goodwin a chance to do something she did not think she would be able to do, and her emotions were different from just about anybody's in the building.
"Days like today are pretty bittersweet," Goodwin said. "We did not think that we were going to be able to be present at a homecoming of deployed soldiers, and we did get to experience that this morning. As happy as we are and thankful that we are for their safety and for their return, it's also a little sad for us. Everybody else gets ice cream. We didn't get ice cream today."
Elected officials and community members, along with a group of veterans were at the ceremony to pay their respects, extending the reach of Fort Polk beyond the gates.
"This is an outstanding ceremony," Brig. Gen. Frank said. "I've been here since February and have been very impressed with what our garrison team put together along with our units, especially our field artillery unit and how they commemorated Memorial Day.
"For our current soldiers and families that are serving today, many of them know a soldier that has fallen in theater, so there is a personal connection to Memorial Day. We greatly appreciated our civilian partners who were here today. We had many of our mayors, elected leaders, city officials that were here today. Our veterans service organizations were all here today. Many of our World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans were here today. That connection to the civilian population in and around Fort Polk is very critical to us. We like to have that and always invite our guest in to be part of our ceremonies here at Fort Polk."
For Brig. Gen. Frank, Memorial Day gives him a chance to remember those he lost, but also remembering why they do what they do.
"I've been a Battalion Commander in combat, and I've been a Brigade Commander in combat," he said. "The years, specifically, on that momentum when I was in command really touched me as a commander who had lost soldiers on the battlefield. There are officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers who are sitting out here in the audience that have that same kind of personal contact with loss in the battlefield. That, of course, is all service to the nation. We are all proud of our service to the nation and what we are asked to do. We move out and make sure that mission is conduct for the national."