Flora Kernea, left, president of the Magnolia Chapter of the Gold Star Wives, bows her head in prayer with (from left) Dr. Barbara Glaze, Dorothy Casteel and Mattie Barron, also members of the Gold Star Wives, on Monday, May 28, 2012, at the Memorial Day program held at the Chattanooga National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Gold Star Wives are widows of military personnel who were killed in the line of duty.
Men carried flags, played taps on bugles, fired guns and said prayers Monday in honor of those who died in service to their country.
Several speakers also made sure that women who have lost their life also were recognized at the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council's Memorial Day program at Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Rosetta Fisher-Oliver, chief of voluntary services for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Tennessee Valley Healthcare System and the keynote speaker, highlighted the growing contribution that women make in military efforts.
There are more than 200,000 women in the military and 1.7 million female veterans, she said.
In 1950, less than 2 percent of the nation's armed forces comprised females. By 2008, 14 percent of military ranks were female. And today, 20 percent of those serving are women, Fisher-Oliver said.
Though people often may not hear of women dying or getting wounded in war, she said nearly 400 women have been wounded and nearly 50 have died in Iraq. Fisher-Oliver said women knocked down doors and disarmed mines alongside their male comrades in Iraq.
"Military men and women continue to fight and sacrifice their lives for us," she said.
Though she was not listed as a speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony, Flora Kernea approached the podium to honor Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Wives, who lost sons or husbands in battle or from injuries and sickness following combat.
Kernea said she lost her husband and a son from illnesses stemming from battle. The Gold Star groups were formed to provide support for those whose husbands or sons made the ultimate sacrifice.
"The ladies had nowhere to turn to experience their grief and their sorrow and to raise their children alone," she said. "We've been there."
After the ceremony, Kernea looked up the hill at the thousands of decorated white headstones, some of which bear the names of her friends and relatives.
"Freedom is not free. You can look around and see the price," she said. "To me, this is a very sacred place."
After the ceremony, many wandered the cemetery's grounds looking for familiar names on headstones.
Vietnam veteran Alan Syler said the cemetery reminds him of the role that submariners played in World War II. He said 3,500 died on submarines in their efforts to sink more than half of enemy ships.
Syler sailed submarines for nine years in Vietnam.
"We need to honor those guys that gave all, because they're still lying out on the bottom somewhere," he said.
He said it's important that all people, young and old, understand the sacrifices of those in the armed forces.
"We need to remember them all," Syler said. "I just wouldn't be anywhere else on this day."
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...