The Smyrna-Clayton Memorial Day parade and ceremony were held this morning, Monday, May 28, starting with the parade at 10 a.m., from Market Street Plaza in downtown Smyrna to Wright Municipal Park on North Main Street.

After the parade, the Memorial Day ceremony was held at the park, at the Smyrna-Clayton Veterans Monument.

The ceremony featured patriotic music performed by the Citizens' Hose Company Band, the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance led by Girl Scout Troop 547, and tributes to each branch of the military and to prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The honored guest raising the American flag was U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Gregory Byrd (retired), who is now an instructor at First State Military Academy in Clayton.

Memorial Day committee member and veteran Tom Emerson hosted the ceremony, assisted by veteran Grant Nash. (STORY CONTINUES BELOW PHOTOS)

Emerson introduced guests including U.S. Army Vietnam veteran John Weik, state Sen. Bruce Ennis, state Rep. Bill Carson, state Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, Smyrna Mayor John Embert, Clayton Mayor David Letterman, Smyrna-Clayton Veterans Monument co-chairman Howell Wallace and Alan Greenwell, the Rev. Dr. John Riley, a U.S. Air Force veteran, from First Presbyterian Church, who gave the opening prayer, and the Rev. Dr. Nicholas Oloo Obiero from True Vine International Family Worship Center, who gave the closing prayer.

Keynote speaker was 21-year U.S. Army veteran Mary Johnson, the owner of Chick-fil-A in Dover. Johnson served as an U.S. Army Airborne paratrooper and Army aviator with two tours of duty in Iraq, earning two Bronze Stars.

Johnson gave an emotional speech, stopping several times to wipe away tears.

"This is very personal," she said. "Memorial Day is not a celebration. It's not a time to say 'Happy Memorial Day.' We are here to say 'thank you' to those who willingly gave their lives for something bigger than themselves....They believed our nation and our way of life was worth fighting for. They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways."

Johnson said as she drove into Smyrna this morning before the parade, "I was floored to see people already sitting on the sidewalk to pay tribute for a debt we cannot repay. You honor our fallen with your presence."

She said unfortunately many people in the United States don't know or don't care about the country's history and merely think of Memorial Day as a three-day weekend, the start of summer, and big sales.

"We've diluted the need for personal sacrifice," said Johnson. "I don't have the answer for our country's ills and apathy," but she said she does remember those who served and sacrificed their lives and never had the chance to marry and raise a family.

"They wouldn't understand the sense of entitlement prevalent today," said Johnson. "They had a sense of selfless service, of putting the welfare of our nation and neighbors above their own."

She reminded the audience of the rights we all enjoy that were protected by those who died in service to our country and that, "All gave some, but some gave all."

Emerson thanked Johnson for her stirring words and said, "This is a unique community. We do remember and we will never forget."

He then introduced the organizations and families who made contributions or gave flags for the Smyrna-Clayton Veterans Monument. He also said personalized bricks are available at the Veterans Monument for those who want to honor someone in the military. The purchase of bricks helps with the upkeep of the monument. Anyone wishing to make a donation or purchase an engraved brick can call Emerson at 302-363-1021 or email

The ceremony concluded with the honor volley by the VFW Post 8801 Honor Guard and the playing of Taps by Adam Carrow from the Citizens' Hose Company Band.