BY DAVID FISHER
MARTIN (May 22) — Army Master Sgt. Conrad Begaye, senior military science instructor for Skyhawk Battalion’s ROTC program at the University of Tennessee at Martin, was the keynote speaker at the university’s virtual Memorial Day services on Friday, May 22. The event was closed to the public and all participants engaged in social distancing in order to comply with CDC COVID-19 control guidelines.
The tribute to American military service personnel was live streamed on the UT Martin Facebook page and on YouTube. It was also archived for later public viewing.
As the program got underway, Lt. Col. Rodric McClain, professor of Military Science, who served as the master of ceremonies, introduced Kerri Arnold, Miss Tennessee Volunteer, who sang the national anthem.
Next, Dale Willis gave the invocation.
Lt. Col. McClain said, “Memorial Day was first celebrated as Decoration Day in 1868, to honor soldiers killed in the Civil War. The day became more commonly known as Memorial Day after World War II. It was officially adopted in 1967, and became a federal holiday in 1971.
“It is a day to reflect on the sacrifices of 1.2 million service members that have lost their lives defending this great nation of ours – soldiers like Cpl. Thomas H. Mullins, from Harriman, Tennessee, who went missing on November 2, 1950, while serving with Company Lima, 3rd Battalion, 8th Calvary Regiment, 1st Calvary Division, in North Korea, during the Korean War. He was 18 years old. After the war ended, a former prisoner of war explained to American authorities that Mullins died of malnutrition and possibly pneumonia, while being held at POW Camp 5 in Ping-dong North Korea. The Army declared Mullins dead on March 29, 1951 and he was posthumously promoted to corporal.”
Lt. Col. McClain stated, on December 14, 1993, North Korea turned over 33 boxes of what were believed to be the remains of Americans killed during the Korean War. He said the Department of Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency and Armed Forces Examining System used DNA from two cousins to positively identify the Harriman High School student. He noted Cpl. Mullins, who was born March 28, 1932, was declared deceased on March 29, 1951, and was interred on March 28, 2019.
“On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff, and then, solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon,” Lt. Col. McClain said. “It is then, raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position is in remembrance of the sacrifices of the men and women who gave their lives in service to this country. At noon, that memory is raised by the living, who resolve, not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue to fight for liberty and justice for all.”
UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver spoke next saying, “In May of 1868, Gen. John Logan founded Decoration Day, which was a true grassroots movement.” He stated Gen. Logan hoped citizens all across the nation would go and decorate the graves of the fallen. “Recently, the country had experienced the Civil War – a time of great sadness and loss.” Gen. Logan efforts were to make sure their sacrifices were not forgotten.
“As we fast-forward to today and look at our celebration, and what Gen. Logan started all of those years ago has become, it’s not grassroots anymore. It’s a national celebration. It’s a day of remembrance. It’s a day of gratitude. And, it’s a day of celebration to remember those women and men that have fallen, we can be grateful for the freedoms that we enjoy on their behalf and by their sacrifice.”
Chancellor Carver invited those listening via the internet to visit the battlefield cross erected last year, located between the University Center and library. “Stop and think about it, as you see it. It’s a visual reminder of the great importance of this day, and the men and women who died fighting for our very freedom.”
Lt. Col. McClain, then introduced the keynote speaker, Master Sgt. Begaye, saying, “He was born in Shiprock, New Mexico and raised in Tucson, Arizona,” Lt. Col. McClain said. “He enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 21, 1999 as an infantryman. Upon completion of basic training, he attended Air Force School in the Ranger Indoctrination Program at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
He stated, as an Airborne Ranger, Begaye served in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan (2016-17), Operation Enduring Freedom in campaigns V and VIII in Afghanistan (2005-07) and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq (2003-04).
Before coming to UT Martin in January, Master Sgt. Conrad Begaye was assigned to Fort Campbell, Fort Benning and the Caserma Ederle Army base in Vicenza, Italy.
During his service since 1999, Begaye was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, the Army Commendation Medal (3 Oak Leaf Cluster), the Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge, Combat Infantrymen’s Badge and the Expert Infantrymen’s Badge.
Master Sgt. Begaye said, “It’s an honor for me to speak at this Memorial Day service to honor the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country while in military service. We who live on tell their story.
Master Sgt. Begaye spoke of his proud service as an Airborne Ranger from the Navajo Nation.
Begaye also observed his 21-year anniversary in the Army on May 21.
“Personally, my Army story began yesterday,” Begaye said. “I celebrated 21 years in active service… I am proudly one of many Native Americans to serve this great country.”
“I’m originally from a small town called Rock Point in New Mexico on the Navaho Nation, and I’m proud to be one of the men and women who have served this great country.” He stated nearly half of the people in Rock Point have served in the military. These military engagements include World War II, Korean War, Desert Storm and the current campaigns of today.
During his speech, Begaye recognized other Native American service members killed in action during his service such as U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Alejandro Jay Yazzie and Army Spc. Lori Piestewa. He also paid tribute to 1999 UT Martin alumnus U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Brent Morel, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, and the Morel family.
“Today and every day, I am reminded of the men who fought and died alongside me in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan… I got to know these men personally: their likes, dislikes, weird music they listened to, and their future plans about when they would eventually leave service,” he said. “There is nothing quite like the bond created being in combat with soldiers who would lay their lives down without hesitation for you.”
“I am constantly reminded that freedom is not free, and we are guaranteed that privilege from the lives that are given Begaye said. “Sometimes we forget the sacrifice made for the freedom we have. These young men and women stood up for our rights, stood up for those who can’t and stood up for those who are not willing to. The lives laid down for this great country are not forgotten,” Begaye said. “Let us not mourn them but celebrate their lives with honor; honor the flag that they fought for (and) the nation of freedom, which we enjoy.”
As the ceremony drew to a close, Dana Hagan offered the benediction, which was followed by a 21-gun salute. Finally, Chloe Lollar, a UT Martin alumna, played taps.
BY DAVID FISHER