backdrop of an overcast November morning highlighted by autumn foliage in all its glory, a brief but somber ceremony was held to commemorate Veterans Day at the Worcester County Veteran’s Memorial in Ocean Pines on Tuesday.
Originally called Armistice Day following World War I to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year when the terms of surrender were reached with Germany on Nov. 11, 1918, the solemn holiday has been known as Veterans Day since 1954. Unlike Memorial Day, which honors the service men and women who died in the service of their country, Veterans Day honors all service men and women from all of the nation’s conflicts and at peacetime.
Appropriately, Veterans Day was recognized at the Worcester County Veterans Memorial in Ocean Pines for the 11th time on Tuesday. The event included solemn speeches, patriotic songs, the laying of a wreath, a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps at the close. Veterans Day Committee member Arlene Page emceed the event and explained while the ceremony was intended to honor the service men and women from all of the nation’s wars and at peacetime, special attention was given this year to the veterans of the Iraq war. American Legion Chaplain Bernie Michels provided the invocation.
The Stephen Decatur NJROTC presented the colors near the start of the event and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Commander Timaree Sparks of the Ocean City Coast Guard Station. The National Anthem was led by the Delmarva Chorus, which later sang the anthems of each branch of service. Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. James Williams provided an address recognizing the many soldiers from Maryland who had earned the Medal of Honor over the years, including heroic stories of many of them giving their last measure of devotion.
One of the more poignant parts of the ceremony recognized the many POWs and MIAs. A simple table adorned with a stark white table cloth and a place-setting for one sat near the Veterans Memorial and one by one members of the American Legion including many from American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City added an important element each with a particular meaning.
American Legion Post 166 Commander Sarge Garlitz narrated the proceedings and explained the significance of each step in the process. For example, the small table represented the frailty of prisoners, and the white table cloth represented the purity of thoughts. A single red rose was placed on the table as a reminder of the blood they might have shed, and a slice of lemon symbolized their bitter fate.
Salt was shaken on the table to represent the tears of waiting families. A glass turned upside down was a reminder of their absence and an empty chair was placed at the table, also representing their absence. Finally, a lighted candle was placed at the table symbolizing hope, and American flag was placed as a reminder that many may never return.
Following the empty table ceremony, officers from Coast Guard Station Ocean City placed a wreath at the base of the American flag in the center of the Veterans Memorial. Following some brief closing remarks and a benediction by Page, members of the American Legion Synepuxent Post 166 fired a rifle volley that created another of the more memorable elements of the ceremony. As the rifle shots echoed across the Veterans Memorial plaza, hundreds of startled birds who had been peacefully bobbing on the pond suddenly took flight. Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Erwin closed the ceremony with Taps played from his bugle as the hundreds who had gathered solemnly walked away.