Military-friendly northwest Florida will host a number of Memorial Day observances both this weekend, and on the actual holiday on Monday.
Originally known as Decoration Day in the years after the Civil War, the holiday acquired its current name in 1954, and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
The Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola is Sunday afternoon at one o’clock – following the annual parade through downtown.
“Memorial Day is at the heart of our mission at the park, to honor those that have given their lives for our freedoms,” said retired Navy Capt. Butch Hansen, president of the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation.
This year, the ceremony will feature the dedication of 140 names added to the Wall South, the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. The names were sand-blasted into the wall in March, bringing the total to 58,315, which catches up to the monument in D.C. Three additional names are scheduled to be added later this year.
Two speakers are scheduled for this year’s event. Retired Commander Scott “Scooter” Moyer is a two-time Blue Angel.
“He’ll bring some great perspective,” Hansen said. “In fact, his son-in-law’s going through flight training in Pensacola now.”
The other speaker has ties to the unveiling of the Wall South’s new names.
“Karen Gogel, who is the widow of a Vietnam veteran, will give a presentation on Vietnam War veterans, and veterans in general,” said Hansen.
The western Panhandle’s First Congressional District leads the other 434 across the nation in the number of veterans per capita. So while Memorial Day is truly a national honor to those who have fallen, Hansen says there’s more cachet here.
“There are plenty of veterans here who understand what that sacrifice means, and they’ve served side-by-side with people that are represented on the various memorials in the park,” Hansen said.
Some veterans, and non-veterans as well, are critical of those who treat the Memorial Day weekend as just another chance for a summer outing. But retired Capt. Butch Hansen says a balance can be achieved between the revelry, and the proper respects.
“Those that have sacrificed, sacrificed for our freedoms to enjoy the backyard barbecue, the day at the beach, and the day off from the grind,” said Hansen. “But, take an hour. Come to [Veterans Park]; I think it will help you reflect on what those sacrifices are.”
Elsewhere, Memorial Day ceremonies get an early start Thursday at the University of West Florida – 9:00 a.m. at the flagpole near Building 10. And the annual observance at Barrancas National Cemetery is set for next Monday, at nine a-m.