“They died so that we may live,” said Jim Giberson, master of ceremonies for the annual Memorial Day commemoration. He referred to the 1.8-plus million people who have died fighting for the United States of America.
He thanked the huge crowd for honoring those who have sacrificed for the nation.
The ceremony got underway about 10:50 a.m. following one of the largest parades in recent memory. More than 60 groups marched down First Street, then turned north on Park Avenue to Veteran’s Memorial Park.
The Seminole High School U.S. Air Force, Junior ROTC posted the colors to start the program. Chaplain Elmer Mayes of the Island X-4 Seabees gave the invocation, and Giberson led the Pledge of Allegiance.
The recently added World War I monument was rededicated during the ceremony. Jim Smith and Nancy Holt gave a brief history of the marble monument’s existence since 1919 when it was displayed in what is now Centennial Park.
The “broken shaft” design has moved a couple of times. In 1988, the monument called the American Legion on Sanford Avenue home. After last year’s completion of Veteran’s Memorial Park, however, the Legion voted to give it up and move the engraved monument where it belonged, Holt said.
On the monument, which sits on the southern end of Veteran’s Memorial Park, are the words: “Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die.” It includes the names of Seminole County people who lost their lives in the “war to end all wars.”
The rededication of the monument was followed by The Sounds of Praise from First Baptist Church in Sanford. The group sang a song called “Freedom.”
Sanford Mayor Linda Kuhn then read a proclamation officially naming May 28, 2007, as “A Special Day to Honor Our Heroic Dead.”
U.S. Rep. John Mica arrived to give the keynote speech after attending a solemn memorial for local young men who have died in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He thanked county and city first responders who received a nice round of applause from the crowd. Mica pointed across the water to the St. Johns River Memorial Bridge that honors all veterans from the area.
With a heavy heart, Mica recalled those who were with him on that bridge for its dedication. Some were families who had sons and relatives killed in war. He said one family on the bridge that day was the family of Brian McVeigh. He was a U.S. airman among those who died in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in June 1996.
Mica had asked his staff to compile a list of names from the 7th Congressional District, which he represents. He read the names of the 20 young people and asked the crowd to pray for them.
He said politicians usually end such speeches by saying, “God bless America,” but after reading the names, he ended by saying, “God has blessed America.”
Peter Herrick spoke next and he received a standing ovation before uttering a word. Herrick rolled to the podium in a motorized wheelchair since he was nearly killed in a mortar attack in 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq.
Before enrolling in the Navy Reserve as a Seabee just before the Sept. 11 attacks, Herrick was a skilled custom carpenter from Fort White, Fla. His unit was called up in March 2004. The mortar attack killed five people and wounded 33. Herrick’s body was riddled with shrapnel, including one in his neck that left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Herrick told the crowd Monday that he had been asked to speak about two things: to share his opinion about the war and what Memorial Day now means to him.
“War is a necessary evil,” Herrick said. As long as there are two people on earth, there will be conflict, he explained.
He called the Iraq war “proper” adding that no other nation has sacrificed for freedom like the United States. He apologized for his voice as he became emotional to which the crowd responded with applause until he gained his composure.
“What we’re doing over there is share something those people have never known,” he said, referring to freedom. He said the people of Iraq were “2,000” years behind us. One of the greatest days, he recalled, was when the Iraqi people went to the polls and held up their blue fingers, which meant that they had cast their ballot.
“There were men and women voting for freedom in Iraq,” Herrick said. “Freedom is inherent in every single human soul. I firmly believe that.”
He admitted that Memorial Day was just a beer and barbecue day before Sept. 11 and the Navy Reserve. Now he sees it as one of the best and one of the worst days.
It is the worst because he remembers his friend who died in the mortar attack. A man named Ron Gintaer, who Herrick has known for just three weeks. He said he wishes everyone could experience the closeness that forms with comrades at arms.
“In three weeks, I had a friend,” he said. Today was the day he remembers that friend, he added. Ron had a young daughter that he cherished, Herrick recalled.
“He talked about her all the time,” he said. Herrick said he thinks about the thousands of people like Ron who have given everything to the nation.
“God bless liberty and the freedom that God has given us,” he said in closing. He received a standing ovation. Once his wife and caregiver, Diana, helped him maneuver away from the microphone, the crowd again applauded as his wheelchair rolled off the stage.
Bobby Dean was up next and he read the traditional poem written during World War I by John McCrae, “In Flanders Field.” In part, it says: “We are the dead, short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders Field.”
In another tradition in Sanford, Ralph Feebach and Dwight Voorhees from the Fleet Reserve Association B Duke Woody Branch 147 performed the two-bell ceremony for fallen Navy personnel.
The Seminole County Sheriff’s Department and the Sanford Police Department gave dual 21-gun rifle salutes followed by “Taps” played by a young man from Westview Baptist Church.
Chaplain Hayes gave the Benediction followed by “God Bless America,” performed by Eula Martin and the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 30 Auxiliary.
After the JROTC retired the flag, the huge crowd filed out as The Sounds of Praise sang patriotic songs.