Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7017, their ladies auxiliary, several elected officials and residents gathered at a mausoleum behind Seale Funeral Home on a sunny Memorial Day morning to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who have lost their lives in service to their country.

VFW Post 7017 Quartermaster Vance Sutton traced the history of Memorial Day and read the 1868 orders of the U.S. Army establishing the special time that has been set aside to honor those who have fallen in combat.

The early establishment of Memorial Day called for the paying of tribute to the deceased veterans, the maintaining of their graves, and the marking of their passing by the placing of flowers and flags on their graves, Sutton explained. The founding of Memorial Day also called for helping the survivors of the fallen service members as well as living veterans.

The centerpiece of the Denham Springs Memorial Day observance was an empty casket draped with the American flag. The casket was symbolic of fallen warriors in the many wars fought throughout the nation’s history.

“We are here today because we know what a debt we owe to those who paid the ultimate price to purchase our freedom … a freedom which we enjoy today,” said Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks. He then read a poem titled “Freedom is Not Free.”

Ricks said 82,729 service personnel remain missing in action, with 72,159 of those missing in World War II. “I’m eternally grateful for the sacrifice of all those who put on the uniform without questions and went on to fight for this great nation that we enjoy today,” he said.

“This is a special day for all of us, and it is good that we have come here to remember those who have defended our country with their lives,” Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry said. “For 240 years, since the days of the Revolutionary War, we have been guarded by the unselfish men and women who have defended our country. Whenever you meet a veteran, thank him or her and show your appreciation for what they have done for you and me.”

Livingston Parish has sent many of its sons and daughters into the armed forces, Sutton said, and each year more and more veterans die. The names of 189 Livingston Parish veterans who died during the past year were slowly read with pauses between each name.

A group of Post 7017 members laid symbolic mementos on the empty casket with each addressing a special “thank you” to those who have died in battle.

The ceremony closed with the firing of three volleys of shots from members of the post’s honor guard and then the playing of taps by two trumpeters, with a bagpiper playing a final martial tune.