By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (May 27, 2014) – The 2014 Memorial Day ceremony at the St. Augustine National Cemetery witnessed the largest assembly in recent years. Some estimates put the number at 400 people who gathered on an overcast and sultry day to honor fallen veterans. The ceremony was sponsored by Ancient City Chapter, Military Officers Association of America, the Florida National Guard, and the Veterans Council of St. Johns County.
Before the ceremony began, numerous occasions of handshakes and hugs were exchanged, veteran to veteran. A solemn time marked by gratefulness and much camaraderie. No greater love exists than the love of one veteran to another. They share a bond that others can only witness from afar.
The ceremony included the time honored tradition of reading names of veterans who passed since the previous Veteran’s Day. The 117 names were read by Peggy Linardos and Deidre Mountcastle. Cadet Michaela Heinrich, Nease High School NJROTC, served as salute officer pealing a ship’s bell for each branch of service.
More than 30 organizational color guards participated under the leadership of Parade Marshall CWO4 George McCrea, USA retired. Marching on to the parade field, the color guards were led by the Florida National Guard Adjutant General’s Honor Guard and honored by veteran presenting hand salutes and civilians with hand-over-heart. After the ceremony Former Mayor George Gardner remarked, ”Despite the number of times I witness this event, the sight of row upon row of our nation’s flag plucks my heartstrings and the pure sound of honor fills my soul.” “Magnificent,” he said, “Just magnificent.”
The highlight of the ceremony was the “Tribute to A Fallen Comrade” written and read by SGM Ray Quinn, USA retired. Quinn penned the piece and registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office on April 11, 2005. Quotes from the piece are used by permission.
The tribute speaks of how a fallen comrade is honored by those still living. “Brother must tend to brother,” it reads. The monument is simple, but powerful, showing “honor and respect for the one who has fought the good fight and given their last full measure.”
“Marked by the tools of a soldier’s trade,” read Quinn, “it will never be seen in a church synagogue or chapel, only on the field of battle.” The tools are the soldier’s boots, rifle with fixed bayonet, helmet, and dog tags.
Even though people knew it was coming, many still flinched and jumped when the rifle salute, performed by the Florida National Guard, sounded. Not all were veterans. The salute was followed by the solitary bugle of St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Commander John Donlon, retired. “Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to render emotion than the call Taps.,” wrote bugler historian Jari A. Villanueva in his article 24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions
After the benediction and retirement of the colors, many of the audience fell in behind the Ancient City Pipes and Drums to proceed north on Charlotte street to the Plaza de la Constitution to participate in the rededication of the Pilot Club of St. Augustine War Monument which was recently moved to a more prominent and accessible location. Thoughtfulness was expressed for those unable to walk the distance, transport to and from the plaza was provided by The Green Trolleys.
“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.”