By Michael Isam
Special to Historic City News
On Friday, the Council on Aging held their annual Memorial Day Celebration at River House on Marine Street. The event was well attended by a cadre of veterans from several branches of service.
Martha Skinner, Senior Center Coordinator was Master of Ceremonies. Dr. David Rice, Pastor of Ancient City Baptist Church provided the invocation and asked attendees to observe a moment of silence for those veterans who have given their “last full measure of devotion” to their country.
Color presentation was provided by members of the Nease Naval Junior ROTC under the direction of John A. Duffy, USN (Retired).
SGM Ray Quinn, USA, (Retired) spoke eloquently about St. Augustine’s display of flags beginning with the American Legion post on Anderson Circle, flag displayed by the city of St. Augustine at the west end of the Bridge of Lions and down Avenida Menendez to the parade ground across from the Florida National Guard Headquarters on Marine Street.
“The flag on the parade ground did not always fly 24 hours per day. The flag was raised every morning and lowered every evening until 2002,” said Quinn. “When the number of soldiers being deployed by the Florida National Guard, the decision was made to illuminate it and fly it 24 hours per day to let the soldiers know this was their home, their temple and it was going to remain flying because of their sacrifices.”
Since 2002 the Florida National Guard has deployed more than 14,000 men and women.
“Multiply that by the 50 states and five territories and you have a relevant force,” Quinn remarked. “We developed two ceremonies — one was for deployment and the other for their welcome home.”
On deployment, each unit was given a flag and asked to fly it at their field of operation, to bring that flag home and display it in their armory to show their citizens where that flag had been and who it represents.
The units usually return with their flag, but Quinn explained that the soldiers don’t always fare so well. “I can close my eyes and see the funeral honors detail as they fold the flag with great care, crease it, and, held against the chest, present it to a general officer accompanied by a three second salute. I also remember each time I watched as a general officer bent down on one knee to present that flag to the family of a fallen soldier, asking them to please accept this flag as a token of our appreciation, on behalf of a grateful nation.”
No Memorial Day celebration is complete without music, and The River House Chorus performed for the audience a medley of Armed Forces songs. Piper Jim Sloan concluded the ceremony with “Danny Boy”.
Everyone adjourned to the dining room to enjoy a small repast which was highlighted by a presentation to Mario Patruno of a mess hall tray and fork. From the twinkle in his eyes and the smile on his face, you would believe he received the most treasured gift of his life.