Ocean City honors veterans’ commitment to freedom

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Jen Marra / Veterans Joseph Caserta and Jack Hagan bring up the memorial wreath during the Veterans Day Ceremony “Honoring All Who Served” Monday, Nov. 12 in Ocean City Veterans Memorial Park. Jen Marra / Veterans Joseph Caserta and Jack Hagan bring up the memorial wreath during the Veterans Day Ceremony “Honoring All Who Served” Monday, Nov. 12 in Ocean City Veterans Memorial Park.

OCEAN CITY — Addressing the gathered crowd for the annual Veterans Day ceremony Monday, Nov. 12 in Veterans Memorial Park, Mayor Jay Gillian noted that what the community endured during Hurricane Sandy was “just one small obstacle” compared to what many of the veterans in the audience had faced in their lifetimes.

Veterans took turns standing as their respective anthems – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – were played and the crowd clapped appreciatively for each of them.

Veterans Day, Gillian noted, began as our nation paused to commemorate the end of World War I, known as the “war to end all wars.”

“It’s doubtful that any of the people of that prior generation could have ever imagined how many more times Americans would be asked to sacrifice and fight to both defend our country and help those who needed us around the world,” he said.

“Today is to honor all of those who did that in the past and are doing it right now,” Gillian said. “We gather here on Veteran’s Day to honor each of you here, and the millions of others who have served. We do so with the knowledge that our gratitude pales in comparison to the sacrifices you made to defend our way of life and help others around the world. You were willing to give up the comforts and safety of civilian life because your country needed you for something bigger. You answered the call and we are eternally grateful.”

Gillian, the keynote speaker, asked those gathered to keep those who are serving around the world in their thoughts and prayers.

“They’ve done so with the knowledge that they would likely be sent into dangerous areas of the world to pursue evil people and organizations that still would like nothing better than to harm innocent people,” he said. “Yesterday and today, people like us have gathered around the nation in places such as this to express the thanks of a grateful nation.”

One day, he said, does not seem adequate to do that.

“To paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill, Never was so much owed by so many to so few,” he said. “You veterans are bound by a common experience. You and your families sacrificed some portion of your life because our nation needed you. You are owed a debt of gratitude that we can only partially repay.”

Gillian urged everyone to thank a veteran for his or her service, every day by contributing to local veterans organizations or attending a pancake breakfast. He urged everyone to participate in the annual Walk for the Wounded or hire a veteran.

“They’re the type of people you can count on,” he said, adding that city had a number of veterans on the payroll.

“As Americans, we are blessed to have the greatest military the world has ever known,” he said. “What has made our military great is not the powerful weapons or the remarkable technology they use. The true strength of our military stems from the dedication, bravery, skill and spirit of those who have worn uniforms.”

While paying tribute to veterans in attendance, Gillian noted that Ocean City lost a “great person” and honorable veteran with the recent passing of Bob French.

“He could always be found right back there, greeting his many friends and fellow vets,” he said, pointing to the bleachers. “This is a special place for all of us, but even more special for Mr. French than most.”

Over 60 years ago, French’s father, Edward, a WWI veteran, planted 22 holly trees and white crosses in memory and honor of each of the servicemen who lost their lives in World War II. Framed by the now giant holly trees, Gillian said, “We were lucky to have Mr. French as long as we did. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

Following the ceremony, Gillian said he planned to go to Wesley Manor to visit Dick Grimes, another local veteran who was not able to make the ceremony.

“I’ll be sure to give him your best wishes,” he said. “It’s people like Bob French and Dick Grimes that this day is all about.”

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew said the men and women who founded our nation created a “unique experience in all of history.”

“They pledged their lives, treasure and sacred honor,” he said. “They gave it all up. They were willing to do so.”

The founders, he said, dreamed of a civil society, a Democratic Republic where honest, decent individuals of integrity would be able to speak freely, educate freely and worship freely. It was, he said, all about freedom.

Through history, veterans have given their lives, he said, and they continue to do so today, he said. Our responsibility, he said, was to honor that commitment.

Recalling a recent military homecoming where he was invited to speak, Van Drew said the young soldier returning to his hometown received a hero’s welcome. He returned home minus one of his legs.

“He was about 19. He looked so young, he had a cherubic face, he was excited,” he said. “His bright blue eyes were beaming.”

Despite his missing limb, the young soldier was optimistic.

“No words, no speeches will give him his leg back,” he said. “We can’t change that, but we can let him and others like him know that we honor him, remember him and will never forget him.”

Rev. Ed Speitel, a retired Army colonel and chaplain, gave the invocation and benediction. The Dramis Detachment of the Marine Corps League made the presentation of the colors.

Julia Wilson, a student at the Ocean City Intermediate School, sang the national anthem.

Bob Marzulli, commander of American Legion Post 524, led the Pledge of Allegiance and Clark Manley, senior vice commander of VFW Post 6650, introduced the speakers.

Emma Davis, of Macedonia United Methodist Church, sang “God Bless America.”

Paul Scarlett played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and Joseph Caserta and Jack Hagan placed the ceremonial red, white and blue wreath.

Jen Marra / The Dramis Detachment of the Marine Corps League present colors during the Veterans Day Ceremony Monday, Nov. 12 in Ocean City Veterans Memorial Park. Jen Marra / The Dramis Detachment of the Marine Corps League present colors during the Veterans Day Ceremony Monday, Nov. 12 in Ocean City Veterans Memorial Park. Jen Marra / Ocean City Intermediate School student Julia Wilson sings the national anthem. Jen Marra / Ocean City Intermediate School student Julia Wilson sings the national anthem. Jen Marra / Ocean City American Legion Post 524 Cmdr. Bob Marzulli shakes the hand of World War II veteran Joseph DiOrio, both served in the US Marine Corps. Jen Marra / Ocean City American Legion Post 524 Cmdr. Bob Marzulli shakes the hand of World War II veteran Joseph DiOrio, both served in the US Marine Corps. Jen Marra / The crowd listens to keynote speaker Mayor Jay Gillian. Jen Marra / The crowd listens to keynote speaker Mayor Jay Gillian. Jen Marra / Paul Scarlett plays “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes while a wreath is placed in front of the veterans memorial. Jen Marra / Paul Scarlett plays “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes while a wreath is placed in front of the veterans memorial. Jen Marra / Emma Davis with the Macedonia United Methodist Church sings “God Bless America.” Jen Marra / Emma Davis with the Macedonia United Methodist Church sings “God Bless America.” Jen Marra / VFW Post 6650 Senior Vice Cmdr. Clark Manley closes the ceremony and thanks the veterans and the crowd for attending. Jen Marra / VFW Post 6650 Senior Vice Cmdr. Clark Manley closes the ceremony and thanks the veterans and the crowd for attending.


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