“Though as a combat veteran myself, it is nice to be thanked by someone for my service. Veteran’s Day is a time to thank all of those like me that have served in our armed forces, but Memorial Day, today, is a very special day to recognize and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for you and I to this country,” Fort Rucker Director of Public Affairs Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jimmy Cummings said at the Meadowlawn Memorial Day Remembrance event on Monday, May 27.
Veterans, military families, city officials and many more packed the small tent to honor those soldiers who have lost their lives for this country.
“Memorial Day is an opportunity for Americans to pay homage to men and women in uniform who died serving this great nation,” Cummings said. “Memorial Day is a call to remember their lives, their courage, their legacy and their service. We honor the memory of those before us and vow to carry on the legacy of the excellence of the American military member.”
Cummings then took the crowd through the history of Memorial Day and its start as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868.
He spoke about two particular soldiers that he served with and would like to remember on Memorial Day: Capt. Kimberly Hampton and Maj. Paul Voelke.
Hampton was the first female pilot to be shot down and killed in combat on Jan. 2, 2004, near Fallujah, Iraq. Hampton was part of the 1-17th Cavalry, 82nd Airborne Division, the same division Cummings served in.
“We talked nearly everyday during that tour as we both worked and advised the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division during its combat operations in Iraq,” Cummings said. “Being in a very remote and early entry combat environment, both of our teams slept in the same vicinity and her Humvee was usually parked near mine, so many nights she was the last one I spoke to before laying down/passing out on the hood of my Humvee to get a few hours sleep.”
She was on her second tour when she was shot down.
Voelke died on June 22, 2012 in Mazar-E-Sharif, Afghanistan, where he was serving as the executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga.
Voelke gave Cummings his tour around the Pentagon in 2008 and both ended up being deployed to Afghanistan at the same time in 2012 though Cummings was in central Afghanistan.
It was during this deployment that Cummings spoke of a night he will never forget.
“Late one night, Paul (Voelke) called me while I was still up late working at the ISAF/NATO/U.S. Army headquarters there in Kabul,” Cummings said. “He sounded like he really wanted to talk, but we were busy with one of the many crises of that time and I did not have time to talk and asked if I could call him back some other time. He said yes. Well as it often gets in a combat zone, I never found that time to call him back in a semi-timely manner. Less than a week after that short phone call, I found out he was killed. I regret even today that I did not take a few moments to talk with Paul that night. That has and will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
He said that the community needs to continue to reflect on and honor the sacrifices of those who have died in uniform.
“America owes a debt of gratitude to survivors—the families and loved ones,” Cummings said. “We must continue to care for the survivors and families of our fallen heroes. The sacrifices of our fallen comrades are cherished in the hearts of these survivors.”
Also at the event, Enterprise Councilman Perry Vickers read a proclamation by Enterprise Mayor William E. Cooper that set aside Memorial Day as a special day in the city and encouraged all citizens to participate in honoring the fallen.
On the Friday before event, May 24, volunteers from all around the area gathered to place flags on the over 1,300 graves of soldiers at Meadowlawn Cemetery.