CLEVELAND -- A somber crowd gathered in front of the traveling Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Voinovich Park for a wreath-laying ceremony during Marine Week Cleveland June 12, 2012. Although the wall lists the names of the fallen from the conflict in Vietnam, the service also commemorated those who paid the ultimate price in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We’ve been out here 14 hours a day doing this and still every ceremony we do is very emotional," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Drake, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Marine Week honor guard at the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
During the ceremony, which will take place daily throughout Marine Week, a Gold Star family member lays the wreath at the foot of the flagpole in front of the wall.
Today, Sandra Mendez-Ruiz placed the wreath to honor the life and sacrifice of her nephew, Lance Cpl. David Alberto Mendez, who was killed in Iraq six years ago.
"When David died, I lost David, but I gained a family," Ruiz said. "What I’ve learned in the past six and a half years is that the Marine Corps is a family – it’s a bond unlike any other. It doesn’t just include the Marines, it includes the family of those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice."
That family loyalty was plainly seen through the Marine sentries who walk daily in front of the wall from eight in the morning until 10 at night. Marine veteran Cleveland police officers volunteered to stand guard for the evening hours to honor their fallen brothers.
Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Taylor, with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, and native of North Hampton, England, was one of the Marines chosen to serve hourly shifts as a sentry.
"It’s hot, and it can get pretty miserable, but it’s a feeling you can’t really describe," Taylor said about standing guard. "It’s humbling to say the least."
Ceremonies like the wreath laying are just one way Marines and gold star families alike are doing their best to keep the memories of their fallen brothers and sisters alive.
"We’re just a continuation," Taylor said. "It’s an ongoing thing. It’s nice to know that when I’m gone, there will be more Marines who will remember me and so on and so on."
As the wreath was placed in front of the wall, the fallen from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan joined their fallen brothers from past conflicts in American history. Although they may be gone, they are never forgotten.