MARCO ISLAND — The ceremony was held at 11 a.m., in keeping with a tradition that goes back to when Veterans Day was still Armistice Day, commemorating the cessation of hostilities after the First World War, which took place at "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," even though that meant that some islanders were still at church.
It was a beautiful morning, with enough breeze to rustle the flags presented by the VFW color guard, as well as the national and service flags flying on the poles as part of the permanent memorial.
Lang invoked the memory of the battles of World War I, as well as those of World War II, in which veterans present at the observance had personally served, and reminded the audience how those members of the "greatest generation" performed when duty called.
"They persevered, liberating continents and millions of citizens from the dark grip of tyranny," he said. He mentioned the long Cold War, and urged special attention to current serving members of the armed forces, engaged right now in what has become the longest lasting war in our nation's history, the struggle in Afghanistan against those who sponsored the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Lang also brought up the need to struggle – peacefully – against our own government sometimes, relating how the VFW had fought for more than a decade for the post-9/11 GI Bill, helping to ensure proper treatment of returning soldiers.
"We must make sure our government takes care of our veterans," he told the crowd.
Music was provided by the Marco Island Strummers, under the leadership of Wes English. The ensemble played a variety of patriotic anthems, including a medley of the various service hymns. Craig Greusel joined in for an echoed rendition of "Taps," with two horns adding a special dimension to the simple, beautiful melody.And after a solo introduction by Emily Savage, adding the musical preamble often left unsung, Herb Savage took the lead for his trademarked rendition of "God Bless America," leading the crowd in song while literally wrapped in Old Glory, courtesy of the breeze.Charles Zakoian attended wearing a cap identifying him as a former crewman of the USS Long Island, an escort carrier in which he served as a gunnery officer in the Second World War. The Lieutenant j/g was barely 19 years old.
"I have a photo of me shaking hands with Admiral Nimitz. After the war ended, they asked for volunteers to go back so the older men could go home, so I went out again," he said.
Zakoian wouldn't have had to go to sea at all, as his brother had been shot down and was MIA, but he volunteered for a combat ship. "My brother turned up after the war in a Russian POW camp. He's buried in Arlington National Cemetery now, and some day I hope I will be, too," he said.
Charles Zakoian returned to active service in the Korean War, reaching the rank of Lt. Commander, and served as a dive officer in that conflict.
While there were plenty of flags at the ceremony, the "Big Flag" at the foot of the Jolley Bridge has been removed for safety reasons, after a motorist hit and weakened the flagpole there. Miniature American flags by the dozens lined the medians of Collier Blvd. leading to the bridge, but unfortunately by early afternoon many had blown over onto the ground.
Lang said after the ceremony that the audience is welcome to place their lawn chairs on the circle of pavers in front of the dignitaries and the band, but they do not.
"People think it's sacred ground, like a cemetery, but it's not," he said. And he reminded everyone before the proceedings ended they are still raising funds for the memorial.
"Look down," said Lang. "Any paver you see without a name on it could be yours."