Memorial day is more than backyard barbecues and going to the beach, but is a federal holiday which occurs annually on the finally Monday in May to honor and remember the men and women who died while serving their country in the military.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks the end.

Everyone is invited to join in honoring Orange County veteran in the 10th annual event held 6 p.m. Sunday at the Heritage Veterans Memorial Plaza, located at 3810 Martin Luther King Drive in Orange on the campus of the First Church of the Nazarene.

The program will include guest speakers along with patriotic music from the Orange Community Band. The patriotic tribute will honor all veterans and those currently serving in the military. The program will also feature the Southeast Texas Color Guard and the Patriot Riders Motorcycle Group,Complimentary refreshments will be served after the program.

This year, the guest speaker will be Perry Jefferies, manager of the TexVet Initiative, a network designed to support Texas military, veterans and family members with information and referral services by facilitating the delivery of these services across traditional boundaries. TexVet also serves as the hub for the statewide peer to peer counseling network and volunteers. Through its network and event-based activities, TexVet has initiated a “No Wrong Door” policy for the veteran community, its partners have become more knowledgeable about the other services available to veterans, and veterans are properly connected to the services they need most.

Jefferies served as a First Sergeant with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He hails from Waco, the son of a long line of Army Veterans and Shirley Jefferies, creator of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. After deploying to Iraq and traveling with the cavalry through the Sunni Triangle, his unit moved to the Iran-Iraq border and set up Camp Caldwell, future home of the new Iraqi Army.

Jefferies joined the Army after enlisting in the Texas National Guard and served in Korea, Germany, and the United States before deploying to Iraq.  He was awarded the Bronze Star for service in Iraq.  He has served in infantry, armor, and cavalry units as a cavalry scout, platoon sergeant, first sergeant, supply sergeant, and as an instructor at the Armor School at Fort Knox. He retired in 2004 and was awarded the Legion of Merit. He is a member of the Order of Saint George for service to Armor and Cavalry. A graduate of Pierce College in Washington, he worked with the Armed Services Blood Program at Fort Hood for seven years before joining the TexVet Initiative at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and is a founding member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The Heritage Veteran’s Memorial Plaza ws dedicated on Memorial day weekend in 2004.

Inscribed on plaques incorporated into the plaza are the names of scores of defenders of America’s freedom who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines at home and abroad.

The plaza features a life size sculpture “Tears from a Grateful Heart” by Scott Stearman, a Colorado artist, which depicts a soldier kneeling before the grave of a fallen comrade. Also featured in the plaza is the ship’s bell from the U.S.S. Dyson. Built in Orange, the U.S.S. Dyson went on to earn the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 battle stars for World War II service.

Orange County veterans’ names may be added in granite for $40. Messages may be added to bricks in the memorial for $100. For more information, call 409- 882-1816.

Ron Emmert and Ray McDowell, accept a $500 check on behalf of the Heritage Veteran’s Memorial Plaza Monday afternoon, from Kristen Williams, of the Sabine Federal Credit Union. RECORD PHOTO: Debby Schamber