OCEAN CITY — Weather permitting, an expanded Hometown Heroes military banner program including for the first time this year living World War II veterans from in and around the resort area will be officially dedicated with a special ceremony at the Fireman’s Memorial on the Boardwalk at North Division Street on Thursday.
In 2014, the Ocean City Elks Lodge 2645 launched the first Hometown Heroes military banner program honoring active members of the armed forces from the resort area serving in various branches and in various areas around the world. For the last two years, the popular banners have returned each May and proudly display pictures of active servicemen and women throughout the summer and into the early fall.
The banners are affixed to brackets attached to light poles along the concrete section of the Boardwalk from 4th Street south. This year, however, the Ocean City Elks Lodge has expanded the program to include living World War II veterans from the resort area and throughout Worcester County.
While most of the banners had been installed by mid-week, the official dedication ceremony is set for noon on Thursday at the Fireman’s Memorial at North Division Street. Many of the living World War II veterans honored with the banner program this year are expected to be on hand with more than a few brought in by van from area nursing homes. Despite a rather ominous forecast that calls for showers and cool temperatures, the event is expected to go off rain or shine.
Ocean City Elks Lodge Veterans Committee member Pat Riordan, who conceived of the idea of a Hometown Heroes military banner program for Ocean City after observing a similar display while on vacation in Temecula, Calif. a few years ago, said this week there are no plans in the event of inclement weather and urged potential attendees to watch the weather closely and use their best judgment.
“The banners will be up all summer and there is no need to put anyone in harm’s way for this event if the weather doesn’t cooperate,” he said.
Riordan said the dedication ceremonies in years past have been standing room early and unfortunately there is no seating available at the site. He recommended those with elderly attendees bring wheelchairs, walkers with seats or even beach chairs.
The expansion essentially doubles the number of banners from 20 to 40, with 16 active service men and women honored along with 24 living World War II veterans. For the first two years, the resort’s Hometown Heroes military banner program honored only active servicemen and women, but it has been expanded this year.
“We’ve expanded the program this year to honor living World War II veterans,” said Riordan this week. “We felt it was important to honor these World War II veterans while they’re still with us.”
In the past, the Hometown Heroes banners were displayed on light poles along the easterly side of the concrete section of the Boardwalk. To accommodate the expansion of the program this year, the banners will be displayed on poles on both the outside and inside of the concrete section of the Boardwalk from 4th Street south and along the concrete section around the Wicomico Street Pier.
“The banners this year will honor not only those who are currently serving our country but also those that have served in the past, and we’ve expanded the area in which they will be displayed,” said Mayor Rick Meehan during Monday’s meeting.
Riordan said it was challenging finding living World War II veterans from the resort area. Even more challenging was finding pictures of them from their active duty during the war. The banners honoring active servicemen and women feature their current official military photo along with their name, branch and rank. For the new World War II honorees, often grainy black and white photos were used, but a graphic artist dressed up the banners with images from the war in the background to create larger than life portraits.
The Ocean City Elks Lodge sponsors the program with the help of private donations from citizens and businesses and other fraternal organizations. Each of the banners cost around $295, not including the cost of the heavy duty brackets that support them. The town of Ocean City’s in-kind contribution is the installation of the banners each spring and taking them down each fall. The banners will be taken down sometime in October, depending on the weather and potential storms, and will be presented to the active servicemen and women and the living World War II veterans and their families during a special ceremony in October.
Riordan said expanding the Hometown Heroes program this year to include living World War II veterans could be just the beginning and left the door open for a further expansion in the future.
“We want to honor all of our living veterans,” he said. “Once we work through our living World War II veterans, the long-term plan is to start working on our Korean War and Vietnam veterans.”