This year marks the 19th Memorial Day in a row that America has been at war, Sandoval County Commissioner and U.S. Air Force combat veteran Jay Block said during a pre-recorded City of Rio Rancho Memorial Day ceremony last week.

Because large gatherings are prohibited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city recorded a small, socially distanced ceremony and released the video online Monday. The event included music and a three-volley rifle salute, with U.S. Marine Master Sgt. Charles Walters serving as master of ceremonies.

Mayor Gregg Hull gave a welcome and read a proclamation.

“When I think about this Memorial Day, it has a very special significance that while we are separated, we’re still together, and while we are staying apart, we’re remembering the things that are very important to us,” he said. “We’re remembering those that paid the ultimate price. We’re remembering the families of those that paid the ultimate price.”

The ceremony took place at Veterans Monument Park.

Jay Block

Block, a retired lieutenant colonel, gave the keynote speech.

“We honor those fallen, like our local heroes behind me (named on a memorial wall) who gave their last full measure, not to be conquerors of another nation or people, but to bring liberty to those enslaved and under tyranny,” Block said.

He asked listeners to also remember Americans in harm’s way in battlefields in the Middle East, as well as New Mexico National Guard members conducting combat operations in the Horn of Africa, and to pray for them and their families.

“Throughout our history as a nation, every generation of young Americans has been called upon to defend out country, to leave our shores to fight and defeat evil,” Block said.

He urged people to visit a national cemetery to reflect on the many lives cut short in service.

“While I cannot see all of my fellow brothers and sisters here today due to COVID-19, let me say it is our duty to keep those who have fallen alive and tell their stories so they will never be forgotten, and to keep freedom’s tree alive and thriving,” Block continued.

He said the American flag flies because of the fallen and his fellow veterans.

“I am proud to have served on the battlefield with you, but I hope and pray no other American generation will have to be called upon to fight,” Block said. “Our mission is peace. And while we may never see it, we must always be prepared to defend our country and other freedom-loving people around the world.”

Today’s generation must protect freedom and hand it down to their children to do the same, he said, so that the older generation doesn’t spend its sunset years telling younger generations what it was like when people were free.