Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the summer season for local beach towns, but observances held in Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach over the weekend were keenly focused on ensuring the holiday keeps it original meaning — to remember those lost defending the nation.
Fresh in the minds of those at the two events were the recent deaths of two Marines from Seaford, killed in Iraq within a single week.
Brig. Gen. Terry Wiley of the Delaware Army National Guard, the featured speaker at the May 27 event in a red, white and blue-bedecked Fenwick Island town park, recalled both his own early years of service and the lives of comrades lost then, and his attendance at the recent services honoring those two Delaware soldiers.
“Thirty-nine years later, I’m still burying 18-year-old soldiers,” he said.
“We have a duty to our fallen soldiers to make sure they have not fallen in vain,” said Wiley. “And on a summer beach day like today, to make sure the sun does not shine more brightly than the reflection from the gravestones of the fallen.”
Wiley encouraged those in attendance at the Saturday service to plan to attend in 2007, and to encourage others to attend with them, to ensure the focus of the holiday was kept on the military dead.
The second-in-command of the Delaware Army National Guard also recognized the families of those lost, while Fenwick Island Councilman Harry Haon — who hosted the event — ensured the living veterans present at the observance were also acknowledged.
Among them also was 93-year-old Jane Strong, one of the group of female, civilian pilots who aided efforts during World War II by ferrying military plans up and down the East Coast. Strong was based in New Castle, and said fighter planes were her favorite aircraft to fly during that time.
The event closed with the singing of three patriotic songs, the playing of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute.
In Bethany Beach, Memorial Day services on Monday were relocated to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall, due to ongoing renovation at the boardwalk bandstand. The crowd overflowed from the packed hall, with dozens of residents and visitors of all ages standing in the hot sun outside to participate in the event.
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was the featured speaker in Bethany Beach, and she too emphasized the need to observe Memorial Day not as the beginning of the summer season but as a deeply meaningful holiday started to honor Civil War dead.
“We need to make sure Memorial Day remains just that — a day to remember. Not just a beach day, but a day to remember the true, the faithful, who have done so much.”
Minner, too, noted the loss of the Seaford Marines. “Just last week I attended the memorial service for two fallen Delaware soldiers,” she said. “I hate to hear them say they ‘lost’ their lives. They gave their lives that we might be free.
“Don’t think of it as lost,” she emphasized. “They won. They won our freedom for us.”
The governor also recognized those still serving. “Our troops have done well,” she said. “They have missed birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases, baseball games and the playing of bands at the Bethany Beach fire hall.”
“And our fallen soldiers are remembered well as they fight on with our troops,” she said. “We know they will never be forgotten.”
Those living veterans were very much on the mind of the governor on Monday, as she declared the importance of continuing to honor their service into their senior years.
“I started the money to plan the veterans’ home,” Minner said, noting that the state facility is scheduled to open on Dec. 7 of this year. “There is no way to adequately thank them. But to make sure they are protected and cared for is our duty.”
Of those lost, she said, “We can’t bring them back, but we can make sure they’re never forgotten.”
Minner also praised the performances of the combined bands and choruses of Lord Baltimore, Frankford and Phillip C. Showell elementary schools. The students had performed a series of patriotic songs to open the event, as well as debuting Lord Baltimore’s first school song.
American Legion Post 24 hosted the Bethany Beach event, and took the opportunity to present honors to Indian River High School senior Andrew Cordell Carey, who won the group’s scholarship. Carey read from his essay on the American flag before returning to his duties as a Fenwick Island Beach Patrol member.
Post 24 Commander Dennis Daniels Sr. also presented an award to representatives of 84 Lumber, in honor of their ongoing donation of materials for handicapped access ramps constructed by the post, both for veterans and local civilians.
And Post 24 Historian Cliff Fisher made a surprise presentation, to G&E and Hocker’s Supercenter, in the person of state Rep. Gerald Hocker. Fisher praised Hocker’s support for veterans and efforts to raise funds for their benefit, saying, “He does more than anyone else I know in the community.”
Hocker accepted the honor before joining Minner in praise of the elementary students’ performances and proceeding with his scheduled memorial address.
“We are here to honor the sacrifice made by those brave soldiers who gave so much because they knew how important the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are to each of us,” Hocker said.
“These are men with real names, homes and families. Some of them were too young to buy a beer,” he emphasized, “but felt it was their duty to protect our lives.”
“I am confident that the beginning of the end of war is in remembrance,” Hocker said, continuing his address by acknowledging the meaning behind the words to “Taps.”
More pointedly, and perhaps acknowledging controversy over religious expression in local schools, Hocker said, “I hear many people say, ‘God bless America.’ Why should he, when we turn away from him?”
Returning to the central theme of the events, Daniels also remarked on Lord Baltimore’s first Memorial Day observance, held on Friday, May 25, at the school. “Our kids are going to learn what Memorial Day is,” he said with pride.
Those attending the Monday service in Bethany Beach also acknowledged the living veterans in their midst, with a standing ovation, while those remembering veterans lost observed both the traditional POW/MIA ceremony and the placing of poppies on a memorial wreath under the supervision of the American Legion Auxiliary.
The event closed with a 21-gun salute from members of the Delaware National Guard — may fresh from tours of duty in Iraq — and the playing of “Taps.”