It’s been eight months since Army Pfc. Tony Potter Jr. was killed in Afghanistan and the pain his family feels has yet to subside.
“I have it hard every day,” Tony Potter Sr. said Monday, tears running down his face. “If it wasn’t for my grandchildren and my kids, I would have given up a long time ago.”
For the Potter family and an estimated 700 in attendance at the 45th Infantry Division Museum Memorial Day Ceremony, it was a day to honor and remember those killed while serving in the military.
“It is vitally important that all Americans know that freedom is not free and never will be,” said Col. Joel Ward, commander of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma National Guard. “Those we honor today paid the ultimate price for the freedom that we enjoy today.”
Veterans from every branch of the military and every conflict were represented.
Colorful flags and banners dating to the Revolutionary War flapped in the wind on a warm, breezy day.
Many wore their uniforms; others showed their pride by wearing hats or jackets commemorating the wars in which they fought.
Some, such as members of the Oklahoma National Guard motorcycle group called the Guard Dogs, wore leather jackets dotted with military patches and bandannas.
“We’re here to honor our fallen heroes and the ones who are still missing,” said James Martin, who retired in December after 26 years with the National Guard.
One retired soldier, Warren Myers, 90, wore red, white and blue suspenders to mark the occasion.
“I may be the oldest one here,” said Myers, of Norman, a 45th Infantry Division soldier who served in Italy and other countries during World War II.
In January 1944, Myers fought in the Battle of Anzio, a particularly brutal fight on the coast of Italy. The campaign concluded with the fall of Rome.
“We were making beach landings before the guys showed up at D-Day,” Myers joked.
Myers and other World War II veterans were recognized first, followed by those from the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War and the conflicts in Grenada and Panama. Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, were also called.
In all, 14 soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were killed during the brigade’s recent deployment to Afghanistan. Their families were recognized Monday along with the family members of six other team members killed since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Potter, 20, of Okmulgee, died Sept. 9. He left behind a brother, two sisters, a son and a wife.
“Coming here made me a feel a little better,” said Dillon Potter, 19, who had hoped to enlist after graduating from high school and meet up with his brother in the Middle East. “I miss him a lot. We were very close. He was like my best friend.”
Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the state adjutant general, stressed the importance of remembering the sacrifice made by veterans, particularly since just 1 percent of the population serves in the military today, he said.
“If we suddenly lose the willingness to defend our freedom, which comes with a price, than we’ll lose that freedom,” he said.