‘Heroes who never came home’: Marco Island pays tribute to fallen military on Memorial Day

Lance Shearer

Memorial Day has come, and been observed, each year, even during the COVID pandemic. But For the last two years, the customary commemorative gathering to honor those who died fighting for our country had not taken place for fear of spreading disease.

The traditional venue at Veterans’ Memorial Park is in the midst of a makeover, so for Monday’s Memorial Day observance – not “celebration” on this solemn occasion – the ceremony was hosted by Marco Lutheran Church. The theme was “Heroes who never came home.”

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Meeting in the sanctuary of Pastor Thomas’ Boeck’s church offered some advantages, including air conditioning and the ability to incorporate film clips into the presentation. It also includes the sound system, except for when at the beginning of the proceedings a “false alarm” fire drill cut the power for a moment.

The Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department was close by had it been needed, with its tower truck serving as a massive flagpole out front, and fire chief Chris Byrne sitting next to Police Chief Tracy Frazzano in the front pews of the church.

The program featured many Memorial Day staples, with the presentation of flags for each service branch, and a musical tribute with veterans of each rising to be recognized when their hymn was played. A few stood twice, including Lee Ross, who served in the Army and the Navy, and Lee Konocke, who was in the Navy before he was in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

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Lee Ross also carried the service flag for the U.S. Space Force, a new addition to the proceedings. She then performed the POW/MIA ceremony with Harry Weathers. Lee Rubenstein, Post Commander for American Legion Post 404, who sponsor the gathering, acted as master of ceremonies.

Remarks came from Collier County Commissioner Rick LoCastro, a retired Air Force colonel, and Marco Island newcomer Rear Admiral Ken Deutsch, a two-star flag officer. Some rear admirals boast only one star, it turns out.

LoCastro pointed out what Memorial Day is not all about – furniture sales, discount automobile sales, stocking up on cases of beer, or the chance to fire up the grill. “Never say ‘happy Memorial Day’ to a veteran,” he said. ‘Spend time today remembering those who gave their lives and could not come home.”

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Special tribute was paid to the three “Greatest Generation” World War II veterans in attendance, John Basic, Sal Sciarrino, and Don Mills. Army vet Mills served as a combat engineer in the South Pacific theater.

Admiral Deutsch said that often, Memorial Day has been seen as just the beginning of summer, the end of the school year, or the opening of the local public pool.

“But today war is all around us – we are inundated with the threats of war, the hazards to peace … and once again threatened with nuclear war, not only tactical nuclear war, but strategic Armageddon,” he said. “But in the end, the sacrifices made and the freedom preserved are worth the cost. As we so often hear, freedom has a price and each generation pays its due. Today is our day to say thank you to those who foot the bill.”

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After the fire department’s bell tolling for veterans who passed away in the last year, including Tom Weinmann, Robert Roy, Doug Hartmann, Dick Siska, and Leroy Fishleigh, a video played that packed an emotional wallop. It showed video of many of the 25 military cemeteries in 10 foreign countries where over 130,000 veterans who gave their lives are buried. Row after row of crosses, interspersed with Stars of David, brought home how many soldiers never came home. It was pointed out that their families had the option to have their remains repatriated, but some chose to have their loved ones lie close to the comrades who died with them.

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Fittingly, and in keeping with Marco Island’s Memorial Day traditions, the ceremony closed with Craig Greusel playing a somber rendition of the haunting melody “Taps” on the bugle.