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Marco Island’s Memorial Day observances, held at 11 a.m. on a hot Monday morning, had a couple of changes, notably floral wreaths placed front and center to honor deceased veterans from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

Hundreds attended, seeking out scraps of shade under trees or sitting under the canopy for veterans, but numbers were down from some previous observances, perhaps due to the baking 90-degree heat.

Perhaps the most poignant thing about the ceremony was who was not there this year – Herb Savage, performing his trademark “God Bless America” and still fitting into his World War II colonel’s uniform. Emily Savage, who always sang alongside her husband, attended without breaking into song, but his absence emphasized that the veterans of the “greatest generation” are rapidly leaving us.

This was highlighted when Lt. Bob Boone, commander of Marco’s Civil Air Patrol squadron, read out the names of veterans who passed away this past year, while John Basic of American Legion Post 404, himself a World War II vet, rang the Fire-Rescue Department’s bell after each name.

Keith Dameron presided as master of ceremonies, Mary Jo O’Regan sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” accompanied by members of the Tommie Barfield Elementary chorus, and the Civil Air Patrol provided a flyover exquisitely timed with the presentation of the colors by honor guards from the military auxiliary organizations and the Marco Island Police Department. O’Regan made a second appearance with a solo on “America the Beautiful.”

Rubenstein’s address, titled like the entire ceremony “In Their Honor,” focused on the pain of the families left behind when a soldier dies.

“Politics are irrelevant to a family that hears the words ‘we regret to inform you … ’ The reality that your child is dead comes in doses,” he said. Rubenstein included a plea for understanding across the political aisle in our divided country. “Labels that we hurl today like Democrat, Republican, red state, blue state, matter little when facing land mines and never-ending machine gun fire while charging a beach.”

Shortly before the end of the ceremony, Rubenstein, Boone, John Montville of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and Father Tim Navin of San Marco Catholic Church conducted an “honoring of the wreath ceremony,” with Navin sprinkling water on the assembled floral tributes.

Dameron’s final words included tips on not succumbing to the heat of the day.

“I wish you a cool afternoon. Please hydrate,” he told the audience, advice easier to heed since bottles of water provided by Yvette and Al Bennaroch of Affordable Landscaping with ice and coolers from the fire-rescue department were available, while flowers were provided to the ladies courtesy of Nancy Carrington and Marco Island Florist.

As everyone was streaming out of the park, Samantha Malloy of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department was busily stacking up chairs.

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