They came to remember, to honor, to pause to consider the sacrifice of the men and women serving in the U.S. military – at home and afar. Some were there to hear their loved one’s name read from a roll call of the 230 or so service members, some were there to read the names, or participate in what has become a December tradition – the Christmas candlelight worship service – honoring those from the area who have a Brown County connection.
It was as if there were complete cooperation. Temperatures that were wet and frigid 24 hours before were considerably warmer and drier by 6 p.m. Tuesday. A gentle breeze whipped the flags and once or twice caused a mic to squeak at the Stuart and Margaret Coleman Plaza during the program, but, when the time came to “pass the flame” and light candles, it didn’t completely interfere.
“It was as if God stilled the wind until we could light the candles,” said Joyce Leidig, one of the principals with the Military Family Support Group.
Tuesday’s ceremony was the seventh annual service, coordinated through the Military Family Support Group and several local clergy. Leidig said particular recognition should go to Eric Evans, who coordinated the program and helped “tremendously” with the set up of the sound system, “and other things.”
Numerous scriptures, explaining God’s protection and offering encouragement and strength against fear, were read.
Special recognition was given to the families of the Brown County casualties. Joyce Leidig called the names of Cpl. Eddie Lee Ephriam, who was the first Brown County casualty killed in the Vietnam War; Maj. J.T. Aubin, killed in action in Iraq, March, 2003; Lance Cpl. Mario Castillo, killed in action in Iraq, June, 2005; Cpl. Michael Craig Ledsome, killed in action, November, 2006; Sgt. Marieo Guerrero, killed in March, 2007, in Iraq; and Spc. Donald A. Wesley Burkett, killed in March, 2008, also in Iraq. Ephriam, Aubin, Castillo and Ledsome were all U.S. Marines. Guerrero and Burkett were both U.S. Army.
“The music is beautiful,” whispered Mary Stephenson, who with her husband Dennis were at the ceremony in honor of their grandson, a Marine, serving in Afghanistan.
Among the offerings were “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by the community choir, 4X Grace sang both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” and the Heartland Harmonizers sang “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “Eternal Father Strong To Save.” Jill Goodwin sang “Heirlooms” and the Rev. Ernest Kirk sang “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Leidig said approximately 150 attended the event. “I think tonight’s service was one of our most beautiful yet. It makes me glad to live in a community where there is so much talent and it is offered so freely. I’m proud for the support we’re showing for our military.”