Daphne Crawford scanned the tall, granite walls inside the Louisiana Memorial Plaza in downtown Baton Rouge on Monday afternoon amid the sweltering heat and humidity, searching for the names of three men who died defending the United States.
One by one, Crawford found the three names and taped a small red poppy next to each one during the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the plaza adjacent to the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial and Museum.
The three were sons of Crawford’s friends, but the mothers were unable to attend the memorial, so Crawford, the mother of a U.S. Marine who joined in 2001 and served six tours in the Middle East, filled in to make sure those men were properly remembered.
“When you’ve attended the funeral of the son of a friend and lived through those moments with them and found out that they got that knock on the door that you were so dreading — this day brings all that home,” Crawford said.
More than 200 people joined Crawford, veterans and families at the ceremony where there was standing-room only inside Memorial Plaza. More people gathered atop the walls overlooking the memorial and on the stairwell leading to the walkway on the Mississippi River levee.
Many veterans and military members wore their uniforms while others wore shirts and baseball caps signifying their service.
“It means a lot to me as a war veteran myself. You come back and just show support to the families,” said Curtis Spurlock, 61, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1972-1973 and lost a few friends to the conflict. “It’s nice to get together on a day like this.”
In the opening remarks of the ceremony, USS Kidd Ship Superintendent Tim NesSmith urged every person to write down one name on the granite walls and spend some time on the Internet learning about that person.
“That’s the best way possible to honor that person by having them stay in your memory,” he said.
The keynote speaker was Jan McCurdy, a Gold Star Mother whose son, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan McCurdy, died Jan. 5, 2006, in Fallujah, Iraq, when he was hit by a bullet in the neck while trying to pull a fellow solider out of barbed wire.
She talked about her memories of Memorial Day and how her view of the holiday has changed over the years: from cleaning her grandfather’s grave with family members in Minnesota as a youth, to barbecuing and hanging with friends in her 20s, to working for a company that made employees work for Memorial Day in her 30s, to a solemn affair after her son died.
“Memorial Day for me finally became a day of respect once again,” she said.
USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum’s Executive Director and Louisiana Air National Guard veteran Alex Juan read the poem, “We Remember Them,” her eyes welling up as people took red poppy flowers to place next to loved ones on the granite wall.
Debbie Marie, 61, was one of the people who took a flower.
She taped it next to childhood friend James Hebert III, who joined the U.S. Army at 18 and died six months later in Vietnam. The two grew up together and Marie teared up remembering Hebert, who got engaged to one of Marie’s friends shortly before leaving for the Army.
“He taught me how to hold a pool stick,” she said. “I’ll never forget it.”