Hundreds attend Marco Island Veterans Day ceremony

Lance Shearer

Hundreds crowded into the sanctuary at Marco Lutheran Church for a ceremony honoring the nation’s and Marco Island’s military veterans.

The gathering, at the traditional “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” a nod to when hostilities ended in World War I, was unique in several respects. Last year’s observance was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as was the Memorial Day ceremony, so the master of ceremonies Lee Rubenstein, post commander of American Legion Post #404 on Marco Island, said that Thursday’s service was an “attempt to combine Memorial and Veterans Days.”

It was also held indoors, for the first time in the event’s history, as Veterans’ Community Park, the usual venue, is undergoing a comprehensive renovation not expected to be completed before July 2022. Being inside the church gave organizers access to a sophisticated audio-visual setup, which they used to show images, sound and video during the ceremony. One notable speaker was deceased former President Ronald Reagan, who said, “those who say we are in a time where there are no heroes just don’t know where to look.”

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One didn’t have to look far in the crowd at Marco Lutheran, around half of those in attendance were veterans, and stood to be recognized as their service anthems were played in turn.

The keynote address was presented by Collier Sheriff’s Capt. Rich Hampton, a graduate of Marco’s Tommie Barfield Elementary and Lely High School, and a military veteran himself. Hampton proclaimed himself humbled to be speaking before three veterans who were called out for special mention, “Greatest Generation” members and World War II veterans John Basic, Don Mills, and Robert Sargeant. He pointed out that the sheriff’s office has “300 veterans now serving” on the force.

The kinship between military service people and first responders was also pointed out by Marco Island Police Dept. Chief Tracy Frazzano, who said, “let me say two simple but extremely powerful words to our veterans – ‘thank you.’” Marco Fire-Rescue Chief Chris Byrne said there are “no two groups of Americans who get along better than military and first responders.”

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In lieu of a speech, Rubenstein recited a poem, “A Poem Worth Reading,” noting that unlike the death of a politician, “the passing of a veteran goes unnoticed and unsung,” and urging his listeners to accord them some respect. Lt. Col. Bob Nager, commandant of the Marco Island Civil Air Patrol squadron, delivered some respect to the fallen, reading the names of the service members, 12 men and one woman, killed in the Kabul airport bombing in August, as well as local veterans who passed away since the last public gathering on Nov. 11, 2019.

On this 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, the history and protocol there were illuminated by American Legion Post 404 Chaplain Bill Duncan, and post members honored POWs and MIA soldiers. A color guard with members of both the Collier Sheriff’s Office and MIPD was a last-minute addition, said Rubenstein.

Craig Greusel, who is music director both at Marco Lutheran and Tommie Barfield Elementary, was busy, playing guitar under the reading of the deceased veterans’ names, conducting the fifth graders who sang patriotic songs and “We Are the World,” giving a solo rendition of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," and ending the service with his time-honored playing of “Taps."

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