Hundreds Gather to Remember the Fallen at Southern Regional Memorial Day Service

May 30, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

As hundreds of people gathered on the lawn outside the 9/10 building of Southern Regional High School on May 25, Roy and Nisha Khan had the distinction of joining a trio of uniformed Southern graduates in placing the memorial wreath amid the 6,952 flags decorating a large part of the field behind them. It’s not something the Khans necessarily signed up for when their son, Kareem, enlisted in the Army upon his own graduation from Southern in 2005.

“It never gets easier,” said Nisha, moments after “Taps” and “Amazing Grace” signified the near-end of Southern’s Memorial Day service. “‘Taps’ is always painful. But 6,952 families feel the same as we do. We have good and bad days, and this weekend is always tough. But it means a lot to us and our friends, who have known Kareem since he was a child, that we’re invited here for this ceremony. It means he hasn’t been forgotten.”

Since 2010, Southern staff and students and local community members have gathered to remember and honor those who have died during the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan originally connected with Operation Iraqi Freedom – represented by the flags surrounding the flag poles along Route 9.

“In 2009, on Veterans Day, my English class and I talked about veterans and how we can honor them. My students then asked what we could do coming up, and we came up with this idea for Memorial Day, and it’s become a Southern Regional tradition,” said retired teacher Marilyn Dougherty. “This ceremony started with more than 6,400 flags, and one of the most somber parts of it is that the field of flags keeps growing.”

Following the flag salute and national anthem, Southern’s Air Force Junior ROTC Commander Col. Joseph Potts led the remembrance ceremony by thanking distinguished guests in attendance and Southern personnel for their part in keeping the program a tradition.

“Memorial Day is considered the kick-off to the summer season, but Memorial Day should also have special meaning for all Americans,” Potts said when addressing the crowd. “There are 6,952 American flags on the field today. It is our opportunity to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.”

Potts paid special tribute to the three Southern graduates whose flags had a specific placement in front of the flag pole – Kareem Khan, a U.S. Army corporal who served in the Stryker Brigade combat team of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division and died Aug. 6, 2007; U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Walter Horner, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War on May 8, 1967; and Arthur J. Platt, killed in a military plane crash while serving in the U.S. Navy.

“These three men paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Potts said, specifically addressing their families in attendance. “Please know that this community will not forget them and what they did for us. They will live on in our memories.”

Roy Khan said enduring Memorial Day ceremonies is difficult but appreciated.

“It makes you mad that we have to go through this. War is never a good thing,” he said. “But, again, it’s heartwarming to know that we have ceremonies like this one to honor our fallen heroes. We have fallen heroes in every town all over the country, and this should be done everywhere.”

Roy and Nisha each spoke about Kareem’s desire to serve his country.

“It’s something he always wanted to do,” said Roy. “He wanted to do nothing else but serve his country, and we always encouraged him. We’re very proud of him, and we’re proud of all of our military heroes who have served.”

“It was his dream since childhood to serve his country,” Nisha added. “He didn’t come home, but he did it. He lived his dream.”

Potts said after the ceremony that “it hurts that the numbers of those who die in service to our country go up every year.”

“Memorial Day is always humbling because we have to remember how many paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “I hope something this ceremony and others like it will force people to stop and realize why Memorial Day matters in this country.”

— David Biggy

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