'Freedom isn't free': Memorial Day ceremony (PHOTOS)

Matt Algarin
Members of the Eglin Air Force Base Honor Guard presented the colors during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Destin Memorial Cemetery.

With Old Glory rolling in the breeze, veterans young and old put their hands over their hearts as Destin City Councilman Cyron Marler sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Destin Memorial Cemetery.

"Thank God that we have our veterans who made that sacrifice so we could be free, so people could have a helluva good time down on the beach," said Dan Woods, post commander Destin American Legion Post 296.

More than 75 people attended the annual Memorial Day ceremony, honoring those who gave all to protect America's freedoms.

TO SEE PHOTOS FROM THE CEREMONY, CLICK HERE.

Senior Master Sergeant Melissa Levister, superintendent host aviation resource management of the 96th Operation Support Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, told the crowd while most people associate the song "Amazing Grace" with sadness, she associates it with hope.

"We know, for every death, there is someone who is there to take that person's place," she said.

Levister, who was the guest speaker, spoke of honoring the true meaning of Memorial Day, adding that less than 1 percent of the American public has served in the military.

"They really don't understand what today is about," she said. "Today, we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, we remember the men and women who not only dedicated their lives to the military, but who dedicated their lives to their country, for our freedoms, for our way of life."

Levister said she grew up hearing her dad tell stories of his time in Vietnam, she grew up watching the documentaries on television.

"As much as I knew it hurt him, he would share the stories of his lost friends, of his comrades, of those individuals who did not get to return home to their families as he did," she said. "It wasn't until June 25, 1996 that I truly understood his pain."

On that day, Levister said she lost one of her fellow soldiers, Sergeant Miller D. Campbell.

"It was the first time I completely understood the pain, the hurt, the guilt that my father felt," she said.

Levister, who has deployed and supported Operations Enduring Freedom, New Dawn and Jukebox Lotus, told the crowd she has her own personal military chant, "Military born, military bred, I'll be part of the military until I'm dead."

The message Levister wanted to leave with those in attendance was simple, "never forget."

"It is imperative we teach our children what today is all about," she said. "The sacrifices of those that came before them and those that will come after them. To teach them names and the history of those that came before them. Teach them that freedom isn't free."

As part of Memorial Day, The Log asked the members of the Destin City Council to share what the day of remembrance meant to them. Here's what they had to say.

Jim Foreman:

Memorial Day is a reminder of the past conflicts in which the mostly young Americans gave their lives for their country so that we could enjoy our freedom.

Cyron Marler:

For me Memorial Day is a time to reflect back and think of all the men and women who gave their time and many their life to keep the values and freedoms of this country we call America, U.S.A., our home. On a closer family note, my father and some of my great uncles served in WWII. I have a cousin who retired as a Sergeant Major from the Army, and a close friend who passed away in 2002 that was a former Marine. I am also proud to have served on the City Council with many former military. God Bless America, long may she stay free.

Jim Wood:

Some folks run from the gunfire, others run towards the gunfire in the defense of freedom.  Memorial Day for me is about remembering and honoring hundreds of thousands, if not millions of our patriotic service members who made the choice and gave their lives in service to the greatest country in the world - the United States of America.  As a retired military officer, it is important to remember the selfless sacrifice made by American sons and daughters to a cause greater than themselves. I salute one and all, past and present for their highest tradition of dedicated service.

Tuffy Dixon:

To all those brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Thank you for your part in keeping our country free.

Prebble Ramswell:

Memorial Day gives us all an opportunity to honor our military heroes past and present. This day of  remembrance and gratitude has special meaning in areas such as ours where we witness the sacrifice of these men and women and their families on a daily basis.

Though a day of honor is richly deserved and embraced, I believe it's important to recognize these heroes every day of the year. Whether it is the roar of jets and rumble of helicopters or the tragedy of the UH-60 Black Hawk crash, all of us on the Emerald Coast have a daily reminder of the sacrifice made by our military so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms that come with being an American.

Paying tribute to those who have served our country is vital and one of the reasons I am honored to serve on the Florida Senate Committee "Veterans Florida" where our mission is to make Florida the most-veteran friendly state in the country.