MARCO ISLAND — Red, white and blue was the uniform of the day. Marco Island’s Memorial Day service Monday was the last to be held at the Marco Cemetery before scheduled completion of the Veteran’s Memorial in the park nearby, with hundreds turning out for speeches, music and remembrance of fallen warriors.
VFW Post 6370 Commander Lee Rubenstein served as master of ceremonies, and gave a speech reminding folks that the point of the holiday is not bargains on appliances or just a day at the beach. With 1,000 World War II veterans in the U.S. dying every day, honoring our aging veterans could not be more timely, he said. Rubenstein also expressed appreciation for the military disposing of Osama bin Laden, saying “he was deserving of the justice he received.”
Old Glory was on display everywhere, with the colors on the tallest flagpole flying at half mast, as they traditionally do on Memorial Day from sunup to 3 p.m., to honor the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who gave their lives for their country. After the ceremonial color guard presented additional flags, including the POW-MIA banner, Anna Schilling delivered an a capella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” demonstrating that difficult song can be beautiful and inspiring, as long as one has the voice for it.
Rev. Thomas McCulley New Life Community Church of Marco led the group in a prayer.
“Beneath this grass are people who were willing to lay down their lives for something that cannot be held or felt,” he said. McCulley also praised the surviving veterans, saying they carried tokens of their service, “some on their uniforms or hats, and some engraved on their bodies.”
Many veterans sat behind the lectern under a canopy, wearing various service uniforms, including some who were unable to stand when everyone else did, but still sang along with the patriotic melodies. Bill Filbin attended the ceremony in his camos and beret, a memento from his time “in country” supplying river patrol boats in Vietnam while serving in the Navy, adding that he volunteered for Vietnam.
“We need more Vietnam-era vets to come out,” he said. John and Rosellen Warner tailgated, in matching t-shirts proclaiming that their grandson is serving in the Marine Corps.
During a medley of service hymns performed by the Marco Island Strummers, attendees looked up to witness a flyover by an old Navy T38 trainer piloted by Mick Thorstenson. Herb Savage, introduced as a veteran of the Spanish-American War, although he was probably not yet of military age during that conflict, led the assemblage in a spirited rendition of “God Bless America.” Craig Gruesel took the mic for a musical setting of the poem “In Flanders Fields,” with music written by Elizabeth DiPietri, in what Rubenstein said was the first-ever performance of the piece.
Jerry Stephenson performed “Taps” as a trumpet solo, and Father Tim Navin of San Marco Catholic Church added a prayer.
In his closing remarks, Rubenstein thanked all involved, including those who lined Collier Blvd. with thousands of American flags, giving a special shout-out to the contingent of Boy Scouts standing in the bright sun as “the taxpayers of the future.” Afterward, he said, he heard one scout ask another “what’s a taxpayer?”
As participants streamed out of the cemetery after the ceremony, Terry McCreanor helped Delve Dever negotiate his wheelchair over the uneven ground.
“That’s the Marines, taking care of the Navy, just like usual,” said McCreanor.
As a last note, Rubenstein reminded all that the Veteran’s Day service will be held at the new Veterans’ Memorial in Veterans’ Community Park around the corner, at 11 o’clock on 11/11/11.