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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center

 

VA honors the fallen at Memorial Day ceremony

A wreath rests against the base of a memorial honoring the lives of lost Servicemembers.

A wreath rests against the base of a memorial honoring the lives of lost Servicemembers. The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center held a wreath-laying ceremony during a Memorial Day event at the facility May 27, 2016. (Photo by James Arrowood)

By Meredith Hagen, Lead Public Affairs Specialist
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Veterans, VA employees, their families and friends gathered together Friday, May 27 in the front flag courtyard at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center to honor the memories of the military men and women who have lost their lives in service to their country.

The Memorial Day ceremony also served as an anniversary celebration for Charleston VA, which has been caring for area Veterans for 50 years.

"One of the best ways we can pay tribute to the dead is by honoring their living comrades," said Ralph H. Johnson VAMC Director Scott Isaacks. "On May 13, 1966, the then Veterans Administration Hospital of Charleston held a dedication ceremony and was welcomed as the newest member of the Charleston community. This year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of our medical center, we focus on a renewed commitment to the importance of our mission. It is our privilege to continue to serve our nation's Veterans."

As a testament to the dedication of Charleston VA staff, the facility's longest-serving employee, Rose Simmons, addressed the crowd at the ceremony. Simmons came to work at the medical center in May 1966 and sheltered in place for more than three days to see Veteran patients through the devastation of Hurricane Hugo in September 1989.

"This month marks my 50th year at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center and it has been a privilege and an honor to serve those who have served us," Simmons said. "I will forever admire and be appreciative and indebted to our Veterans for their service."

Photo of Helen Richards, sister of Charleston VAMC’s namesake Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson and hospital volunteer

Helen Richards, sister of Charleston VAMC’s namesake Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson and hospital volunteer, addresses the crowd at the medical center’s Memorial Day ceremony. Richards shared stories of her brother’s selfless actions through his life – including his last final act of service – throwing his body onto a live grenade in Vietnam to save his fellow Marines. (Photo by James Arrowood)

Helen Richards, sister of Charleston VAMC's namesake Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson and long-time hospital volunteer, served as the keynote speaker at the event. Richards shared stories from Johnson's childhood in Charleston, South Carolina, all of which served to show the strength of the Marine's character and his capacity for selfless service to those around him even at a young age.

"Ralph was a giving, a caring, and a loving person," Richards said. "He didn't hesitate for a moment or even stop to think about going to war. That's why it wasn't a surprise to me when I heard that he threw himself on a grenade to save his fellow Marines in Vietnam. That was the life of him right there. Ralph would have given you the very shirt off of his back. In the end, he gave up everything he had for others."

Participants were treated to a musical military medley performed by local male a cappella vocal quartet The Charlestones.

Gary Harvey, Dave Landeo and Lee Burns of Guitars for Vets, an organization that provides guitars and music lessons to Veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, performed the song Last Monday in May in honor of Memorial Day. The song was written by Veterans with the assistance of a non-profit organization out of Nashville, Tennessee called Operation Song and was played with permission at the ceremony.

A wreath-laying ceremony and moment of silence concluded the schedule of events.

The Fort Sullivan and Rebecca Motte Chapters of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution provided post ceremony refreshments of cookies and lemonade.

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