Along with the Civil Air Patrol aircraft flyover that was an official part of the program for Marco Island’s Veterans Day commemoration at Veterans Community Park, a bald eagle made an unscheduled appearance in the sky overhead, riding the thermals and serving as a visible symbol of the nation.
Acting as master of ceremonies, Lee Henderson, leader of both the VFW and the CAP, led a series of speakers who alternated with patriotic musical numbers provided by the Marco Island Strummers. The breeze blew strongly enough that, after presenting the colors, the honor guard remained with them, holding on to ensure that the flags were not blown over. Dave Gardner sang the National Anthem, inviting all veterans present to join him.
“This is not a solo,” he said. “I want them to hear from all of us.”
Those veterans all stood in turn as the Strummers played the service anthems, and remained standing, except for those for whom infirmity or injury made standing not an option.
“Take a look around,” said Henderson. “These are the people that saved us. These are the ones we owe our freedom.”
Mike and Janet Stapleton performed a patriotic tribute, with Mike intoning the words of a series of America’s founding documents and memorable speeches, while Janet sang “America the Beautiful.”
Marine veteran Mike Stapleton began with “When in the course of human events,” continued with the words of the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address, and John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you,” along with “the Eagle has landed” and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” He included a mention of the rights of the unborn, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and “Seal Team 6 1, Osama bin Laden 0.”
After Henderson gave a history lesson on the Pledge of Allegiance, Lee Rubenstein provided an update on the Freedom Fountain and Veteran’s Memorial. Generous donors including Bob and Thelma Sargent, Jim Richards and others, he said, have given to the fund, but additional donations are needed. Those wishing to contribute may call 239-389-5035.
Herb and Emily Savage performed his patented rendition of “God Bless America,” with Emily taking a solo on the verse that, as Herb said, “no one seems to know,” before he came in on the chorus, leading the gathering in song with emphatic gestures.
At the close of the ceremony, participants followed the color guard over to the site of a new plaque, denoting Veterans’ Community Park as a Blue Star Memorial, which was unveiled by Dale de Feo, president of the Calusa Garden Club, which spearheaded placing of the plaque. She was assisted by Community Affairs Director Bryan Milk and City Councilman Joe Batte, wearing his Vietnam map t-shirt from his time in the Marines.
Marco Island Florist provided red carnations for all the ladies in attendance, and Iberia Bank supplied 15 cases of bottled water for thirsty patriots. And out on Collier Blvd., along with the Big Flag at the foot of the Jolley Bridge, and the also big flag next door at the yacht club, thousands of little flags lined the street. At least for the day, Marco Island’s veterans got the message their service is not forgotten.