By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (May 27, 2013) – Prosthetic arms, prosthetic legs, heads in bandages, a face with a look that says “My lights are on, but I have temporarily left the building.” Such was the scene as groups of veterans, families, and others come to honor the lives of veterans who proudly served their country and given their last full measure.
At a time when 1 percent of the population is providing protection for a country of hundreds of millions, the famous words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Never have so many owed so much to so few,” ring crystal clear with truth. These words were repeated many times by guest speaker Brig. Gen. Robert M. Branyon. Branyon is chief of staff and commander of the Florida Air National Guard.
The words from Churchill refer to the time of July to October 1940 when Hitler sent his fighters and bombers to destroy England. “In one day, they sent 400 bombers and 600 fighters,” said Branyon. “Pilots were lucky to grab a few winks under a wing of their aircraft before returning to the skies to face the enemy once again.”
The unsung hero of the day was Jackie Ward, the signer for the hearing impaired. At times her hands were a blur as they moved in cadence with speeches. In the audience many eyes were intently focused on her as they ‘read’ the words. She stood the entire service, along with the color guards of many organizations, as honors and thanks were spoken for those finally safe from all harm.
Then there was the Ancient City Pipes and Drums with that familiar sound going back to the time when the mighty Roman Empire set foot in the Highlands of Scotland. Not quite the same as the naked wode-painted blue bodies running through the fog with bagpipes blaring and watching the one, and supposedly, only time the great Roman army turned tail and ran. But it was close.
This is not to be even remotely mistaken for the angelic voice of Faith Miller who sang the national anthem and lead everyone in “God Bless America” in the closing.
Many sets of eyes, including those of St. Johns County Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson, swept the crowd looking for friends. “I kept looking for Ben Meggitt,” she said. “I did not realize he had passed until I heard his name called during the “Salute to Veterans”. He was such a stalwart of veteran issues and I miss him, especially now.” She was not alone.
Meggitt was one of 127 veterans to pass since Veterans Day 2012. The names were read by Nancy Birchall and Deirdre Mountcastle. With the pronouncement of each name a ship bell was pealed by Cadet Micaela Heinrich of the Nease High School Naval JROTC.
Ray Quinn, Sgt. Major, Army National Guard of the United States (ARNGUS), retired, spoke of the black POW/MIA flag next to the podium. “Thousands of American soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen remain missing in action,” said Quinn. “We should turn our thoughts to them, and their families.”
Quinn went on to speak of the memorial to fallen comrades located in front of the speaker podium. “This is a temporary marker,” said Quinn. “It says to all ‘Our comrade is here, Rest, comrade, rest’.” The marker contains a soldier’s tools; their boots, rifle with fixed bayonet, helmet, and “dog” tags to recognize them.
Watching as the last of the color guard units retired, followed by parade marshal George McCrea, CW4, USA, retired, the words of taps suddenly waxed poetic.
“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”