NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – On Memorial Day, men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice are being honored at the National World War II Museum.

Museum staff hosted their commencement ceremony with keynote speaker Keri Hart, the widow of First Sergeant Casey Hart, a 24-year veteran of the Louisiana Army National Guard.

Keri was welcomed to the stage and told the story of how she and Casey met in 2006. They married two years later.

As she spoke to the crowd in the U.S. Freedom Pavilion, she said, “When Casey asked me to marry him, I remember thinking, ‘Can I do this? Can I be a military wife?'”

More than ten years later and after the two welcomed their daughter Taylen, the decorated veteran was excited about taking a new team on deployment to Syria.

While there, on May 9, 2021, Casey collapsed on his run in the desert.

“I’ll never forget the pit in my stomach when I saw the unknown caller from a hospital in Baghdad, nor will I ever forget the words of Dr. Shirley telling me that Casey had suffered from cardiac arrest and was nonresponsive,” said Keri.

Casey died a month later.

This year is the first year Keri and Taylen are recognizing Memorial Day without him.

“I didn’t think that my dad would ever be one of the fallen soldiers we would remember and honor today,” said Taylen. “We both shared a love for running and often enjoyed afternoon runs, swimming and bike rides.”

Keri says she and Taylen find solace in knowing Casey is looking after them.

“It is because of Casey’s continuous strength, encouragement and love he provided to us in his time here on Earth that we’re able to continue on our journey of growth while honoring his memory everyday of our lives,” said Keri.