By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
A drive-in Memorial Day service attended by over 225 persons was held in the South Shore parking lot of Lake Gregory to honor our nation’s war dead at 11 a.m. on Monday. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the service was not able to be held inside the San Moritz Lodge, as in past years.
Cars were parked staggered in the parking lot, six feet apart for social distancing. Many were wearing masks, in consideration of others.
Pastor Bill Mellinger welcomed all who had come together “to honor those who sacrificed their lives so our liberties could be protected.” Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9624 Chaplain Joyce Rapp gave the invocation: “We’re here to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice and offer a blessing upon their families. We pray for the ones currently serving that they all come home safe and sound. We also pray for those suffering with the Coronavirus, that they are healed.”
The Mountain Fifes & Drums Corps, under the directorship of Joy Hatch, marched in and performed music, both before and after the memorial service, giving a true patriotic feeling to the event. They also played music and marched in with the American Legion color guard for the presentation of the American flag.
The color guard consisted of Frank Smedley, Alan Russell, George Castillo and John Hartford. Nick Nerio, commander of American Legion Post 360, said, “This is an awesome event. We are fortunate to be able to come together, in this way, at this time to commemorate the fallen, after all that is going on in the world.”
Lt. Colonel Stan Gabriel, U.S. Army Retired, spoke on why the American warriors do what they do. “They are determined to defend America because of their love of country and sense of duty, making them willing to die for their country. We are here today to honor those who have willingly sacrificed themselves for our nation,” he said, adding, “Over 41 million have died for this county and another 89,000 are missing in action.
“There is no greater love than one who would willing lay down their life for another. There are those who have sacrificed their lives by being disabled physically, by losing arms and legs, and those who have lost it mentally, emotionally or are suffering from PTSD and have lost their way in life.
Those are also the sacrifices we honor today. We need to remember them too,” Gabriel said. He repeated the poem, “Remember Me.”
Mellinger led the people in singing the military theme songs, as everyone had been given the song lyrics on their way in, along with the program of events. Retired members of each branch of the military honked their car horns in appreciation.
The next speaker for the morning was Lt. Commander Elvis Arrowood, US Navy Retired, who spoke about why we need to appreciate veterans and how to start a conversation with them. He was wearing his military jacket with his dozens of patches. Just ask the wearer about anyone of them, he said, as each one has a story. His aunt asked the significance of his “shinies,” his “pretties,” his medals and another person asked about his “do-dads” and “patches.” These inquiries show an interest and appreciation of the veteran’s experiences and their efforts. “Appreciate their pretties and do-dads and a conversation will ensue,” Arrowood said.
Mellinger reminded the audience that every military member has a family who suffers greatly when they die. “If you are someone who has lost friends, loved ones or family, your loss is also being recognized today. Those who are left behind suffer the grief and loss the most.”
Steve Ferrera blew “Taps” on his trumpet. It was heard across the lake and echoed back over those attending the ceremony. It was quite impressive, bringing tears to some.
“I pray for peace for those who are left behind and for their peace of mind, and for those who suffered injuries or from PTSD. We thank you for each of them and pray for them today,” said American Legion Chaplain Richard Sanchez in the benediction. “They served so we could celebrate our freedoms,” he added later.
The American flag was retired by the American Legion color guard with the Fifes & Drums playing. The ceremony was followed by a short concert by the Mountain Fifes & Drums.
Jeanine Paquette was very happy to see the Fifes & Drums. “They added so much! This was the best Memorial Day service I’ve seen in the eight years I’ve been here; the lake made such a wonderful backdrop.”
Event coordinator Penny Shubnell of the Crest Forest Senior Citizens Club, said, “This was a wonderful service. I am so glad so many came out to honor our fallen heroes.”