(WJLA) - For the last 10 years, a small group that has grown over the years gathers at the same place every year on Memorial Day to toast their fallen loved one and honor his memory.
Year after year, friends and family members from all across the country make their way to Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate the life of First Lieutenant Ken Ballard.
"It's just a time to remember Ken, love him, honor him," said his mother, Karen Meredith. "I really could not have done 10 years without all of you who have been with me through everything, so thank you.
They all share stories and special bonds of a life that brought them all together.
"It's really hard coming back out here because it just brings back all the memories, just everything that I miss about him," said childhood friend, Blake Highsmith.
"He was loved and respected and honored...that's what Memorial Day is all about, is remembering people like Ken who gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Karen.
And for Meredith, each Memorial Day is also a reminder of the day her life changed forever. It was on this day 10 years ago when she learned that her son, who was stationed in Iraq at the time, would not be coming home.
"I wake up everyday and I have to take a deep breath...Memorial Day this morning was hard."
And as each year passes, she hopes that those who knew him or knew of him will continue to mark the somber anniversary with new memories that will never be forgotten:
"He enjoyed life, he embraced life, and if I don't do the same thing, how am i honoring Ken?"
Ken Ballard was a fourth-generation service member. He died at the age of 26 in Iraq, just minutes before Memorial Day on May 30, 2004.