Salina citizens, veterans, family members of the fallen, and esteemed guests gathered on Memorial Day Monday to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion organized solemn ceremonies at Gypsum Hill Cemetery and Roselawn Cemetery in the morning. The event was marked by the presence of a firing squad and color guard, who stood in solemn remembrance of those brave souls who laid down their lives to safeguard our liberties.
In another poignant moment, a crowd at Sunset Park witnessed the unveiling of the Dennis Pugh Memorial within the Sunset War Memorial. This tribute was the result of the tireless efforts of Jason McIntire, a dedicated member of the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 62, who worked relentlessly to ensure the remembrance of United States Air Force Major Dennis Pugh. Major Pugh went missing in action in 1970 while serving over the country of Laos.
Salina Mayor Hoppock delivered a moving speech during the event, emphasizing that a single day is insufficient to honor the courageous men and women who made such sacrifices. The mayor urged everyone in attendance to reflect on what we owe these individuals and how we can repay their eternal debt. Hoppock emphasized the importance of using our gifts and freedoms to build a better world, a stronger nation, and a more compassionate community. The mayor reminded the audience to exercise their freedoms with care and responsibility, keeping in mind the future of our children and grandchildren. Memorial Day presented an opportunity for all to acknowledge the immeasurable cost of human lives that has granted us the country we cherish and the freedoms we enjoy. Hoppock urged everyone to carry the sorrow of the lost heroes in their hearts, but not to remember them solely in sorrow. Instead, he encouraged a commitment to being good, true, hopeful, and strong, and to work collectively toward a brighter future. The mayor concluded by honoring the brave Americans who paid the highest price for peace, freedom, and justice and emphasized that our debt to them can only be repaid through our unwavering dedication to upholding those same ideals. Hoppock offered a prayer for the fallen and their families, and extended his blessings to the United States of America and all those who serve her.
Among the attendees was Dale Pugh, Major Dennis Pugh's brother, who expressed his deep pride in wearing Major Pugh's Air Force Academy ring alongside his own Naval Academy ring. Dale spoke about the honor of having the flags fly at half-staff on this day, paying tribute to the departed heroes and ensuring their names live on forever.
The unveiling of the Dennis Pugh Memorial was made even more poignant with the assistance of Ann Mills Griffith, the Executive Director of the National League of Families. Griffith, who became the Executive Director in 1978 and herself the sister of a Prisoner of War (POW) from the Vietnam War, spoke about her personal connection to the cause. Her brother, Commander James B. Mills, was listed as MIA in North Vietnam in 1966 and was miraculously accounted for in 2018. Griffith highlighted the Vietnam Generation's unique experience with controversy and emphasized the importance of honoring the shared contributions made by Americans in preserving freedom and way of life. She stressed the need for the current generation of servicemen and women to have confidence that they will never be abandoned if captured or missing, with the country doing its utmost to bring them back home. The uncertainty faced by POWs and MIAs was acknowledged as a difficult challenge, and the POW flag symbolized America's commitment to accounting for those who serve the nation.