By Michael Isam
Special to Historic City News
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 of 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 117 names of veterans who have passed since the previous Memorial Day services, were read by Peggy Linardos and Deidre Mountcastle. Cadet Michaela Heinrich, Nease High School NJROTC, served as salute officer during the ceremonies; 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, US Army 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.
“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,” former St Augustine Mayor George Gardner remarked. “Magnificent, just magnificent.”
The highlight of the ceremony was the “Tribute to A Fallen Comrade” written and read by SGM Ray Quinn, US Army, retired. Quinn penned the piece and registered it with the US 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.”
Even though people knew it was coming, many still flinched and jumped at the sound of the twenty-one gun salute; performed by the Florida National Guard.
Retired St Johns County Sheriff’s Office Commander, John Donlon, performed “Taps”; the moving, military bugle call.
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 dedication of the recently relocated St Augustine War Monument. Transportation to-and-from the plaza, was provided by Old Town Trolley for those who were not able to walk.
Photo credits: © 2014 Historic City News contributed photograph by Michael T. Isam