BOONE, N.C.—“For those who fight for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know.”
As Eric Gormly began the keynote address at the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony at Appalachian State University, he quoted these words, which he and his fellow U.S. Marines saw painted on the walls of their barracks at combat training. That was in 2005, when they were preparing to deploy to Iraq for the first time. Gormly is now the coordinator of student veteran services at Appalachian.
“That quote always made me proud to be a part of the military,” Gormly said, addressing about 150 people at Appalachian’s Veterans Memorial, which is adjacent to the B.B. Dougherty Administration Building on campus. “It made me think, ‘Wow, I am able to attain the highest feeling of pride of any American because I am able to help defend the freedom of an entire nation.’”
Gormly, a University of Kansas alumnus who began working at Appalachian in 2016, would soon develop an even deeper emotional response to the quote and, as he demonstrated in his moving address, it would influence his view of Memorial Day.
Gormly served in the U.S. Marines Corps for six years, enlisting after high school in 2004, when he was 19 years old. His service included two tours in Iraq. In September 2006, he deployed to Fallujah with the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment, and in 2009 he went to the Iraq-Syria border with the 3rd Battalion, 24th Regiment.
During the first deployment, 22 Marines in Gormly’s unit lost their lives.
“When we received word of our very first KIA, it was at that point that I matched another feeling with my level of pride,” Gormly said, his voice breaking as he fought back tears. “I was also scared. I wasn’t scared for my own loss, but the effect it would have on those around me. I was scared that my family wouldn’t see me for holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Labor Day and Memorial Day.”
Gormly also realized fully that Memorial Day is not a holiday for celebration.
Memorial Day “is a day to remember those who have paid that ultimate sacrifice, so that we are even able to stand here today,” he said. “(It) is not for thanking service members you come across for their service, but remembering the service members who aren’t here for theirs.”
The 2017 Memorial Day ceremony at Appalachian also featured cadets in the university’s ROTC program presenting colors, raising the flag and lowering it to half-staff. Brent Bingham, the Hayes School of Music’s building manager for Broyhill Music Center, served as the ceremony’s bugler.
Dr. Darrell P. Kruger, provost and executive vice chancellor at Appalachian, made welcoming and closing remarks.
In his welcoming remarks, Kruger praised what he called Appalachian’s “deeply held tradition of honoring the sacrifices of those who serve in the military and of recognizing their families.” He quoted Arthur Ashe, the late tennis star and Army veteran, who called heroism “not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
Kruger also brought up ideas that Gormly would cover in his talk.
“Today, we come together to remember those American men and women who, while serving their country, paid the highest cost by sacrificing their lives,” Kruger said. “Ceremonies like these remind us it is our duty to remember them not just on this day, but every day.”
Gormly has a way of remembering those 22 fallen Marines every day. He and several Marines made bracelets out of cord before they deployed. The idea was to have a little extra cord on hand, if needed, and to symbolize the cohesion they were trying to build.
Gormly was wearing the bracelet on his right wrist during his Memorial Day address. He seldom takes it off.
“Every time I look at the now-11-year-old bracelet I made on my right wrist, I think of those 22 Marines, but today, I think about it a little harder,” he said. “They are gone but never forgotten.”
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.