Originally known as Decoration Day to commemorate the fallen Union solders of the Civil War, Memorial Day has evolved in to a federal holiday to honor all Americans who have died in all wars.
Many traditions have developed, including parades, picnics, placement of small American flags at gravesites and lining the streets in communities around our nation.
Once again, Marco Island's annual ceremony honoring men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces will occur at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day at our new Veteran's Memorial in the Veteran's Community Park.
This Memorial Day will bring a second special community event — the raising of the Marco Island "Big Flag" for the first time.
The 12'x18' flag will be raised on a 50' flag pole that was installed just for this occasion in the median of Collier Boulevard as drivers enter Marco Island from the J.J. Jolley Bridge.
A short, 30-minute program will begin at 3 p.m. in the grassy area on Collier Boulevard in front of the Marco Island Yacht Club. Honored guests will include Florida State Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, who will make brief remarks on the significance of the event. Other attendees will include members of the Marco Island City Council and the city manager, who generously donated the space to accommodate the Big Flag. To assure the safety of all attendees, the right lane coming off the bridge will be closed to traffic allowing the expected huge turnout plenty of room to stand our sit during the half hour program.
"Just how did the Big Flag project come about?" you ask?
An original Big Flag Committee member, Carole Roberts, was driving across the old Jolley Bridge last October and noticed the construction company crane being used to build the new Jolley Bridge had the company flag flying at the top of the boom. Roberts called them to ask if they would consider replacing their flag with an American Flag. A couple of days later, an American Flag was flying in that spot.
From this incident, the idea of having a permanent privately sponsored, large American flag as a greeting to everyone coming across the new Jolley Bridge was born. Having worked tirelessly on both the Veteran's Memorial and the Traveling Vietnam Wall committees, Roberts advanced the idea to several Marco residents, who quickly acted to form the Big Flag volunteer committee with Dave Rice as our chairman. That same evening, he presented the idea at a City Council meeting, which included the committee's unalterable commitment that the project would be privately funded — today, tomorrow and forever. No public funds would be involved at any time.
Thanks to the generosity of seasonal Marco Islander Mike Havey, the first major hurdle was addressed as he donated the 50' flag pole which today proudly stands at attention in the second median on the Marco side of the Jolly Bridge waiting for its Big Flag. To date, private donations have been received from 159 individuals and five businesses sufficient to pay for the Big Flag pole installation and the high-intensity lighting that will make the Big Flag display an inspiring vision for all to enjoy anytime during the day or night. Donations to cover flag replacement and maintenance continue to be needed.
Dress in your best red, white and blue attire, and bring your folding lawn chairs and American flags to waive for this patriotic island event. Limited parking is available at the Marco Island Yacht Club and residential side streets, so come early to get a spot. Parking spaces will be reserved for those needing special assistance in the Yacht Club parking lot.
Each member of the Big Flag Committee — Chairman Rice, Dick Shanahan, Leo Sutera, Litha Berger, Roberts and I — invite everyone to join us for the inaugural raising of Marco Island's Big Flag, with the honor going to the Sunrise Rotary Club, which was the first donor.