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Memorial Day is a time for celebrations across the Ninth District, only a few of which are mentioned here.

For many Americans, Memorial Day means the beginning of summer as outdoor gatherings are embraced. But the weekend is not just a weekend of picnics, swimming pools, family vacations to the beach and cookouts. It is about celebrating people and honoring the U.S. military personnel who lost their lives serving their country.

The Ninth District of Virginia has a grand tradition of honoring our fallen heroes.

Dublin’s Southwest Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Pulaski County stands as an outstanding example. The cemetery is located on an 80-acre parcel of land transferred from the U.S. Department of the Army’s Radford Arsenal to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2008. The cemetery currently serves over 16,000 veterans.

I was honored to attend the Cemetery’s Dedication Ceremony in 2011.

Radford’s Glencoe Museum and Abingdon’s Veterans Memorial Park are slated to attract visitors for their Memorial Day celebrations this year.

Martinsville celebrates Memorial Day annually. I have attended in the past their American Legion Post #78 service at Roselawn Chapel Funeral Home & Burial Park.

Marion’s celebration also occupies the minds and hearts of Southwest Virginia every Memorial Day. This year’s celebration will be particularly noteworthy and sad.

Not only are we honoring soldiers and particularly the soldiers of Smyth County. But the man who handled the Smyth celebration, which is one of the best in the country, passed away this year.

Mayor David Helms was the longtime Mayor of Marion, having served on the Town Council from 1990-2000 before becoming Mayor in 2000.

In public office, Mayor Helms pursued projects to revitalize downtown Marion and improve his community. His love for his community was evident: he spent decades in education, first serving as a teacher and then as a principal.

His love for America and celebrating veterans was a central tenet to his character and the man he was. Mayor Helms was a fierce advocate in recognizing veterans for their contributions and sacrifices. He worked closely with the Marion Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter and the East Tennessee Chapter of Rolling Thunder.

Every Memorial Day, Mayor Helms put on a celebration of epic proportions to honor the veterans of Smyth County and America. It receives widespread praise across the Commonwealth and the region every year.

The parade is beautiful. The town waves a massive American flag above the street with the help of a firetruck. They display another giant American flag at the downtown Courthouse.

Also at the Courthouse, you will find there is a wreath-laying tribute for the veterans. On the Courthouse lawn, the names of deceased veterans are etched into crosses planted in the ground. Full-fledged American flags accompany the crosses. There is a deluge of these cross-flag pairs on the lawn.

One of the crosses in Marion commemorates the Bedford Boys, in reference to the heroes from Bedford County that were amongst the first to land on Omaha Beach during the Allied invasion of Normandy.

Amongst the fallen on June 6, 1944, what we recognize as D-Day, is U.S. Army Private Thomas H. Williams of Marion. Private Williams served the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division on that fateful day.

During the parade, you march down the street, say “hi” and wish people “Happy Memorial Day.” High school marching bands from several Counties participate in the parade and perform tunes. Other organizations and floats also pay their respective tributes for all to see.

I have loved being in the parade with Mayor Helms. I have always been impressed with his hard work and thoughtful dedication in making the celebration a staple for our region.

Following the parade, there is a program at Marion’s Veterans of Foreign Wars facility. Inside the building, one can enjoy a meal with the company of family, friends and neighbors.

Outside their doors, a small ceremony is held with music and speeches.

The festivities are some of the most patriotic to take place in the Ninth District. I am humbled and moved by them.

Most of all, they were never about politics. For Mayor Helms, it was about the soldiers of Smyth County who gave their lives.

On this Memorial Day, while I will be celebrating all veterans of the Ninth District and grateful for their sacrifice, I will also remember patriot Mayor David Helms.

  • Congressman Morgan Griffith

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