MARCO ISLAND — With speeches, songs, flags, and uniforms, Marco Island came together Monday to honor those who gave their lives in the nation’s armed conflicts. Several hundred gathered at Veterans’ Community Park under a blue sky dotted with white clouds to honor members of the military who never came home from foreign wars, led by those who did come home.
Jim Lang, Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #6370, served as master of ceremonies, and the VFW provided the color guard for the event. That was led by Lee Henderson, “Colonel Henderson” from his position as head of the Marco Civil Air Patrol, who will be the next post commander for the VFW.
Attendees wore every possible combination of red, white and blue, displaying Old Glory on their hats, shirts and even reflected in their mirrored sunglasses, in the case of nine-year-old Caroline Stobbs. Veterans on hand wore their VFW uniforms, like Owen Carr, who lost a leg to a Japanese fighter in his B-24 bomber over the South Pacific in World War II, or a military-themed T-shirt, like Marine vet and city council chairman Joe Batte, or a forage cap, like that of World War II bomber pilot George Miller.
“Jimmy Stewart, the actor, was my commanding officer,” he said. Miller’s cap proclaimed him 90 years old, but that was from a year ago. Bill Filbin wore Vietnam-era camos and a beret, Barbara Jaskiewicz wore the uniform of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Phil Ballou wore the uniform of a Revolutionary War Continental officer, and Herb Savage was reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper.
The musical reference is appropriate, as Savage more or less saved the day by leading the assemblage in a spirited rendition of “God Bless America,” filling in time while event organizers waited for the promised flyover. This was accomplished by former Navy pilot Mick Thorstenson, flying his T-28, a former Navy trainer, who came in low over the ceremony, one time in a “dirty” pass, with gear, flaps and tailhook down, while Joanne, his wife, waved from the ground.
The Marco Island Strummers, led by Wes English on the trombone, provided music before, during and after the ceremony, veterans of 14 years of providing the musical accompaniment for Marco occasions. Trumpeter Renald Richard played a duet with Craig Greusel on “Taps,” with the two trumpets echoing the plaintive melody. Then Greusel put his horn into its case and stepped immediately to the microphone to sing the National Anthem, notorious for its difficulty for a lesser vocalist.
Lang, in his address, lauded those who answered the call for military service, saying they “didn’t choose the events events chose them. Our intent today is not to speak of the glory of battle or pay homage to heroes or icons, but rather to reflect on the person behind the deed and remember all of our fallen comrades for what they actually were people like us.”
Father Russell Ruggiero of San Marco Catholic Church provided the invocation, and Rev. Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church intoned the closing prayer. For years, the Memorial Day ceremony was held at the cemetery adjacent to his church, just down the street from Veterans Park, where on a grassy rise the simple monuments marked the final resting places of many veterans.
To fund continuing improvements at the new location, Lee Rubenstein and Bill Duncan of the Veterans’ Memorial Committee offered engraved pavers for sale, to memorialize a loved one and help pay for features including a fountain to be added to the site.