OCEAN CITY — The Hometown Heroes banners honoring U.S. active duty members and veterans on the Boardwalk were presented to honorees or family members last weekend in a ceremony even more poignant than usual because of those who passed recently.
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 and Worcester County serving in various areas around the world. For the last three 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.
Last year, however, the Elks Lodge 2645 expanded the program to include U.S. armed services veterans who served in World War II or the Korean War who are from the resort area or live locally. As a result, the number of banners doubled from the original 20 active service honorees to 40, including 24 World War II veterans and 14 Korean War veterans.
Last Saturday, the Hometown Heroes banners were presented to the honorees and in many cases their families after they were taken down for the season in a fitting ceremony at the Elks Lodge in Ocean City. The ceremony was particularly notable this year because of the passing of several of the honorees. At a time when the nation is losing its World War II veterans by the hundreds each day, eight of the veterans honored by the Hometown Heroes program in Ocean City have passed away since the banners were installed last May, according to Ocean City Elks Lodge Veterans Committee member Pat Riordan.
“Of those 40 honorees, eight have passed away since May 4 when the banners were dedicated and displayed,” he said. “That shows just how important it is to honor these heroes while they are still with us.”
Riordan, who conceived of the idea for a Hometown Heroes military banner program for Ocean City after observing a similar display in Temecula, Calif. a few years back, said the Ocean City Elks Lodge remains committed to honoring its armed services active duty members and veterans with local ties.
“The members of the Ocean City Elks Lodge 2645 are dedicated to helping our veterans in any way we can,” he said. “This program is our way of thanking our hometown heroes for their service. It is to thank them for defending the United States of America. It is a way to thank them for fighting for our freedom.”
The banners are affixed to brackets attached to light poles along the concrete section of the Boardwalk from 4th Street south. To accommodate the significant expansion of the number of banners to honor World War II and Korean War veterans last year, the town approved adding the banners to additional light poles along the concrete section around the Wicomico Street Pier.
“The first 20 banners were flown during the summer of 2014,” he said. “This first two years, all of the banners were for active military duty. In 2016, the town approved adding 20 additional light poles for the hometown heroes program and we began honoring World War II and Korean War veterans with banners.”
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.