PORTSMOUTH — “Freedom is not free and democracy must be defended,” Naval Commander Al Ross told those who came out to a Memorial Day ceremony in Common Fence Point Monday morning.
That’s why it’s important, he said, to take a moment in between the parades and barbecues to reflect on the fallen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country’s freedom.
“Service members don’t choose there they serve or what foreign policy they must uphold. They just respond,” said Cmdr. Ross, a member of Post 5390 and the executive officer at Naval Station Newport.
Family members of these veterans also have paid a heavy price, he reminded everyone. “To those who lost their loved ones in war, every day is Memorial Day,” he said.
Cmdr. Ross was the guest speaker at Monday’s ceremony at Alvaro E. Vieira VFW Post 5390, which was named after a Rhode Island solider who was killed Dec. 7, 1941 while serving aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. The event started with Cub Scout Pack 50 conducting a flag ceremony and leading guests in the Pledge of Allegiance. That was followed by a presentation honoring prisoners of war and soldiers who are missing in action, which was symbolized by an empty chair.
The ceremony also featured speeches by two local students who won essay contests sponsored by Post 5390. Mackenzie Sherwood, the Patriot Pen winner, took on the question: If you had a chance to meet the Founding Fathers today, what would you say to them?
Mackenzie said she would ask them: If the Declaration of Independence intended for everyone to be treated as equals, why weren’t women and African-Americans given the same rights? “Women and African-Americans had fewer choices,” she said, noting that women didn’t get to vote until the 19th Amendment was passed, and slavery continued until the Civil War.
“Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves,” said Mackenzie, before adding that perhaps the founders left it up “to America as a whole” to solve this problem.
Jessica Kaufman, the Voice of Democracy essay winner, spoke on The Constitution’s relevancy today. “It is truly astonishing how a document written in a different century, under different conditions, and with a different population, has managed to remain every powerful and ever potent in our ever-changing country today,” she said.
The document’s continued relevancy stems partly from the United States’ three-part governmental system of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, she said. “This system serves as conducting a strong central government but never allowing too much power to be in the hands of one individual, thus avoiding a possible monarch or dreadful dictator that the creators of the Constitution at one time had to bare,” said Jessica.
“May the question of whether something is constitutional always be in the back of our minds as we move into the future as a nation created, supported and dependent on the Constitution,” she concluded.
After a reading of the Post’s honor roll of deceased members, the ceremony moved outside where a few words were spoken in front of a memorial for the late SSG Christopher Potts. The Tiverton resident was killed on his 38th birthday in October 2004 when insurgents attacked a traffic-control post in Iraq.
The ceremony ended with the Cub Scouts raising and then lowering the flag to half staff.