As hundreds looked on at the annual Commonwealth’s Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, Ruth Eileen Osmolski walked the length of the Virginia War Memorial’s Shrine of Memory and laid a wreath within the stone and glass walls etched with the names of Virginians killed in wartime.

Osmolski was representing American Gold Star Mothers, an organization no one aspires to join. It is an organization of moms who have lost sons and daughters in service of the U.S. armed forces. Osmolski’s son, Army Sgt. John Carl Osmolski, was killed in Iraq in 2008 when a bomb exploded as he was searching a house in a city about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad. He was 23 years old.

“It touches my heart because it shows me America is not going to forget my son’s sacrifice,” Osmolski said after the ceremony as bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.”

“It also is important to the future of our country because of all the children and all the families here learning about freedom and what it takes to maintain it,” she said.

Osmolski, who lives in Powhatan County, wore her son’s picture on a necklace and another on a bracelet. She said he had a deep faith and a profound sense of patriotism.

“He was another kid who played with G.I. Joes and always wanted to serve in the military,” she said with a laugh. “He was full of life and joy. Today when I’m here, all those memories are going through my head.”

Memorial Day ceremonies were held in various locations around the region Monday.

At the Virginia War Memorial, flags waved at half-staff in a much-appreciated breeze on a warm, sunny morning. Old soldiers and new gathered with grateful civilians, filling the memorial’s amphitheater and the grassy hill and walkways above.

Memorial Day traditionally signals the arrival of summer, but more importantly, said War Memorial director Clay Mountcastle, it represents a time to honor those who made “the ultimate sacrifice.”

“To say that we’re lucky to have had them is an understatement,” he told the crowd. “We are blessed to have had the men and women whose names are listed in the Shrine of Memory.

“They each have a story. ... They each have families that carry the pain of their loss through the years. Our job is not simply to know their names but to learn their stories and keep their memories alive. We honor them by educating ourselves and our children of our history — of their history — and what that history has meant to all of us.”

In his keynote address, Gov. Ralph Northam noted that “freedom is never free, and on Memorial Day we are reminded of the human cost to protect our freedoms.

“It is important that we remember that every name on that wall was a person with hopes and dreams and plans for their lives. They gave all of that up. They had pride in their country ... and they had a deep sense of duty, integrity and loyalty to their fellow soldiers.”

Before the laying of wreaths, a rifle salute and the bugle call of taps, Mountcastle noted the addition of three names to the Shrine of Honor since Memorial Day last year:

  • Pvt. Raymond Marty of Louisa County died in Korea on Oct. 21, 1951.
  • Capt. Andrew Patrick Ross of Lexington died in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, 2018.
  • Staff Sgt. Joshua Zachary Beale of Carrollton died in Afghanistan on Jan. 22, 2019.

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