America Supports You: Organization Honors Fallen Heroes’ Children
By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, May 30, 2008 When Marine Sgt. Aaron N. Cepeda Sr. lost his life in combat in Iraq on May 7, 2005, his family also lost a son, husband and father.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas greets Ella and Diana Cepeda, far left, before presenting the Gold Medal of Remembrance to Ella’s children, 8-year-old Aaron Jr. and 4-year-old Journee, during a May 26, 2008, Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. The medal honors children who lost a parent in service to the nation. Their father, Marine Sgt. Aaron N. Cepeda Sr., died in Iraq on May 7, 2005. The Cepedas honored his memory by wearing a picture of him on their T-shirts. Photo by Elaine Wilson, Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In honor of the sacrifice they were not asked to make, but had to make, Cepeda’s children received a Gold Medal of Remembrance at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery here during a Memorial Day ceremony May 26.
The Cepedas were among five families to be honored with the medal, which is presented to children of fallen servicemembers from operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The White House Commission on Remembrance is working to ensure every child in the country who has lost a parent in service to the country receives the medal, according to the commission’s Web site.
“It’s hard for the children to go up there, but it lets them know that their dad is remembered,” said Aaron Sr.’s mother, Diana Cepeda. “As a mother, it lets me know that my son gave a lot for this country, but he won’t be forgotten.”
Wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with their father’s face, Cepeda’s children, 8-year-old Aaron Jr. and 4-year-old Journee, accepted the medals from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
“You should be proud that, beneath the shadow of evil and in the face of danger, your parents did not run, but they stood up for what they believed in,” Cornyn said, directing his remarks to all of the families of fallen servicemembers in attendance. “While I know of no words, no matter how heartfelt, that could ever heal the hurt, I hope these families will find comfort in the courage and the honor of their loved ones’ service.”
The medal presentation was part of a two-hour Memorial Day ceremony to honor the sacrifices of servicemembers past and present. Nearly 1,000 people from the military and local communities braved sweltering heat to attend the ceremony in the shadow of seemingly endless rows of tombstones, each with a small American flag set in front.
Although too young to recognize it, the young medal recipients shared a common bond of sacrifice with the older men and women standing proudly at attention in uniforms that dated back to World War II. Many of them had also lost loved ones and were at the ceremony to honor their memory and pay tribute to those still serving.
“I lost one of my brothers in Korea; he’s buried here,” said Marcos Cordova, representing American Legion Post 579.
“As long as I’m alive, I’ll pay respect for my buddies out there,” said Richard Perez, also from the American Legion.
While many veterans and patriotic organizations paid tribute by taking part in a wreath-presentation ceremony, Miguel Sanchez, from the American Indian community, honored servicemembers in his own way. He moved quietly through the crowd, waving smoke from burning sage onto wreaths to cleanse them for the ceremony.
Following a presentation of service songs and banners, Cornyn spoke of the memory and sacrifice of all servicemembers, including his father, who served in World War II.
“It’s appropriate to be at Fort Sam Houston this Memorial Day, because my father is buried here,” he said. “I learned from my father’s sacrifice the depth of sacrifice that all of our military servicemembers and their families make.”
As the senator recalled the past, he also reminded the audience to look to the future.
“I’ve had the opportunity to visit Iraq and look into the faces of the next ‘Greatest Generation,’” he said. “In their eyes I see your legacy -- the courage, the strength and honor which has been handed down to every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine by the generation that preceded them.
“The truth is, while the uniforms have changed, while the battlefields have changed over time, and even the nature of the threat has changed, the strength and courage of America’s military has not.”
Cornyn’s speech was followed by a presentation of wreaths and banners by military, veteran and civic organizations, a musical presentation by the Alamo Metro Chorus, and a performance by the U.S. Army Medical Command Band.
(Elaine Wilson works in the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)
Editor's Note: To find out about more individuals, groups and organizations that are helping support the troops, visit www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil. America Supports You directly connects military members to the support of the America people and offers a tool to the general public in their quest to find meaningful ways to support the military community.