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Poignant Memorial Day ceremony

Despite the rain, this past weekend was the unofficial start of summer.

The three-day holiday weekend was the perfect time to plant your feet in the sand and listen to the melodic crashing of ocean waves. And for those of us unable to escape to the Outer Banks, a cookout or party with friends was a great way to start summer.

But I’m glad I worked Monday covering the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.

Even in the military community that is Hampton Roads, it can be easy to lose focus on the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Just seeing the cemetery — a sea of hundreds of perfectly aligned gravestones, each marked with an American flag — was a powerful reminder.

Hearing Sgt. 1st Class David Gonzalez play “Taps” — a lonesome, sad tribute to our fallen soliders — made the day even more poignant.

But for me, it was a brief, happenstance conversation with Gonzalez and World War II veteran Jack Ewald that was most memorable.

Ewald, who was on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, described the memories evoked by hearing “Taps.” He said it reminded him of the fallen soldiers, of the wounded comrades that he wasn’t able help during World War II.

Several strangers walked up to him, thanking him for his service to the country.

I would have loved the opportunity to spend more time with him, hearing the firsthand thoughts from someone who experienced that part of our history. The generation of soldiers that made that history is rapidly fading.

Everyone should take the opportunity to visit a veterans’ cemetery.

Read the names on the graves. Think about the sacrifices that soldiers and their families made. Think about how sacrifices of countless members of our military have given us the freedoms we have today.

And then, go thank a veteran.

The date on the calendar doesn’t matter.

The name, rank and branch of service of the veteran — or active duty military member — doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that those of us who don’t wear a uniform remember who is responsible for giving us the freedoms and privileges we enjoy today.