The ceremony began as veterans from WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, both Desert Storm Wars and the Global War on Terror stood up one by one and were recognized for their service by the community. Army Veteran Tom Rice who is also the Vice President of Public Relations for the Veterans Tribute Tower served as this year’s Master of Ceremonies. Rice opened by saying there are changes in the works for next year’s ceremony and noted that this would be the last year that hand bells are used during the roll call of the deceased. The Veterans Tribute Tower of Northwest Florida Committee will soon have a 250 pound bronze bell cast at Uptown Station in FWB.
"Come next Veterans Day we might not have the tower built but we’re going to have a bell to ring. We’re going to pour the bell on 10 September. On 9/11 the 11th of September at 9:47 in the morning when the towers were hit so long ago we’re going to break that bell out of the cast and by noon that day we’re going to dedicate the bell that will one day soon hang in this part of the cemetery."
Rice said that almost 1,700 flags were placed on grave sites this year and that the true meaning of the holiday is to remember those that have sacrificed for it.
"We’re all due to pay our civic rent. Some pay a little, some pay a lot and some have paid with all they had."
Rice then took to the podium to introduce Retired Air Force Col. Frank Roberts who presented Reflections of the Grand Old Flag followed by the ceremony’s Invocation lead by US Army Captain, Chaplain Charles Shields of the 7th Special Forces Group. Capt. Shields said that Memorial Day is about honoring those that have paid the ultimate price for freedom.
"Today we remember those that lay in cemeteries like this one and all across the land and all across foreign lands fighting for this great nation and what she stands for."
Over two hundred names of veterans were called out as family, friends, and community members honored them by placing flowers at the flag pole near the main entrance. The ceremony also included a rifle volley by the 96th Air Base Wing, the playing of Taps and a fly-by from the WWII T6 Texan.
The guest speaker for the program was Major General Scott Jansson. He is the Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons and Director of the Armament Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base. Major General Jansson said it is especially important to honor the families of the fallen and that together as a nation we grieve their loss, honor their memories and celebrate their lives.
"From Valley Forge to Vietnam, from Berlin to Baghdad, Kuwait to Kandahar, Americans have answered their nation’s call and have born the costs of America’s wars. All have sacrificed but those we honor today have sacrificed their very lives and the calls of liberty. Across this great country and throughout the world Americans will pause today to remember our fallen."
In closing, Major General Jansson said that today of all days we should remember those that have sacrificed their lives while serving their country on our behalf and those that are still fighting for our freedom.
"We hold close the memories of loved ones that are no longer with us. While mostly absent from our daily news, that American men and women remain in harm’s way. Often in remote outposts, far from home and far from the safety and security that we enjoy today."
Danielle Freeman, WUWF News