Despite the threat of heavy showers, a large crowd gathered to honor the nation's fallen war veterans at the annual Memorial Day observance hosted by American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 at the Emma Kelly Theater.
Keynote speaker, Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown, spoke passionately about the American flag, what it means to him and its symbolism.
The Portal native with more than 24 years in law enforcement served in the Air Force for four years and is a veteran of the 1990–91 Gulf War.
"Some people today have forgotten what the flag means," Brown said. "Our flag represents hope and unity — the hope of a country founded on freedom.
"Our flag has traversed the world bringing hope."
The American Flag
Brown pointed out that the flag has 13 stripes: red representing bravery, honor and hardiness, and white representing purity and innocence. The blue background, Brown explained, stands for perseverance, vigilance and justice.
"And the 50 stars, the United States," he said.
Brown emphasized the word "united" and said the word "unity" is something to strive for in our country today.
"Our flag represents freedom from oppression — the only country considered a melting pot, welcoming all people," he said.
Brown said the flag reminds men and women who risked their lives for freedom that it is a banner they can rush into battle with, knowing that they fight for something bigger than themselves. Because of their fight, Brown said it's our duty to make sure that this generation and the next do not lose sight of what the flag truly stands for — "and most importantly, those who stood for it."
Brown expressed his sadness when he sees a flag disrespected.
"When the flag is burned or stepped on, they are setting fire to or stepping on the memories of those who died and came home with the flag as their uniform," he said.
However, he also said that anger is not the answer, but rather knowledge and education, and he challenged the crowd in attendance to help educate the younger ones, the next generations on the respect due to and meaning of the American flag.
"Take time to pass it forward," he said. "If we do not educate our youth, history has a tendency to repeat itself."
Dan Foglio, senior vice commander of American Legion Post 90, plans the Memorial Day observance each May and moderated the program. Guests were treated to music by Michael Braz on the piano and patriotic songs sung by Brandi Harvey.
Marvin Grimm welcomed the crowd, and J.D. Turner opened in prayer.
Michelle LeBlanc, widow of an Army veteran, spoke about why and how we remember Memorial Day, ending with these words: "Think of those who, in Lincoln's words, 'gave the last full measure of devotion,' and you have some idea of the price of liberty. It has been a terrible price to pay if freedom fails, but a small price indeed if the world can eventually be free."
Also on the program was Vickie O'Brien, speaking in honor of her father, who served in World War II.
Keith Barber, who served in the Army, read the poem "In Flander's Field."
Intoning and Taps
The intoning of names of Bulloch County residents who died in wars is a traditional and solemn part of the program. County Manager Tom Couch intoned the names of the World War I dead, beginning with Dexter Allen, for whom Post 90 is named.
Sheriff's Deputy Rey Rodriguez served 13 years in the U.S. Army active cuty and currently serves in the U.S. Army Reserves. Rodriguez intoned the WWII Atlantic Theater names.
Army veteran George Sterling intoned the names from the WWII Pacific Theater.
Staff Sgt. Michael Trevino, U.S. Marine Corps, intoned the Korean War names, and Randy Brigman, U.S. Army, intoned the Vietnam War names.
Army veteran Bob Babot read the names of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan and noted that only one Bulloch County name appeared on the list the first time the Iraq and Afghanistan roll was called, and now, he personally served with the first four names he called out.
Knights of Columbus members, led by Ed Brussard and R. Drummer, in ceremonial regalia posted the flag. Dr. Floyd Soriano sang the National Anthem. Bob Marsh, U.S. Navy, read a poem by C.W. Johnson, and J.D. Turner, U.S. Army, said a closing prayer. Enrico Soriano closed the program by performing Taps on his trumpet.