Emotions run high as veterans mark Memorial Day at Kent park

DOVER — “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.”

Borrowing the lyrics from the Lee Greenwood song “God Bless the U.S.A.,” one Vietnam veteran Monday spoke the words in unison with dozens of other men and women as they gathered by a war memorial to pay tribute to the soldiers who died fighting.

More than 150 people commemorated Memorial Day by congregating for an afternoon ceremony held by the Kent County chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.

A sense of honor and respect was palpable as speakers emphasized the sacrifices made by the 1.3 million men and women who died as a result of warfare. Invocations about the costs of freedom drew frequent applause from listeners during what was an emotional ceremony featuring remarks from current and former serviceman, placing of wreaths on monuments and a reading of the names of locals killed in war.

Bagpipes and bugles marked a solemn occasion at the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park. Servicemen standing around monuments saluted the flag, while overhead, a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter fixed to a pole watched the proceedings.

For many in the audience, it was doubtless a poignant occasion, a reminder of things forever etched in their memories.

“Let us never forget to educate our children what democracy’s about, the prices that we have to pay for freedom and the protection of the United States Constitution of this great country,” Paul Davis, president of the Delaware state council of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said to applause.

Some spectators wore clothing patterned to look like the American flag, while others had hats that stated, plain and simple, the wearer had served.

At least three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam — were represented by the veterans sitting around the memorial park.

Youthful and elderly citizens alike watched silently, as did city, county and state officials. Behind the spectators, a group of bikers observed the ceremony. Despite the tattoos and imposing beards several sported, they fit right in on Monday. Everyone present had at least one commonality: an appreciation and respect for those who died fighting for the millions more back home.

Former and current serviceman spoke briefly of their time in the military and urged listeners to remember and to honor the dead.

“Today when you’re barbecuing, please stop for a minute and say a little prayer for the men and women that are in harm’s way now and that have fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Joseph Startt, president of the Kent County Vietnam Veterans chapter 850, said as his voice shook.

From the beginning, Delaware “sent her sons and daughters” to fight for freedom, Mayor Robin Christiansen said.

According to chapter 850, 41 Kent Countians died in Vietnam, Korea and the Middle East.
Col. Daniel Merry, the commander of the Air Force’s mortuary operations at Dover Air Force Base, served as the keynote speaker. His division is responsible for retrieving and burying fallen soldiers.

Thanking those in the audience for attending, Col. Merry stressed the million-plus Americans who died in war should be seen as a reminder of the price of liberty.

“Freedom is not free,” he said. “It never was, and it never will be.”

David Skocik, a member of chapter 850 and president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition, shared a poem that sums up the journey of a deceased military member’s remains.

“They’re coming for me now, I’m going home,” he read aloud. “I’ve waited oh so many years, thank God, I’m going home.”

A small number of local veterans and family members of soldiers killed in action were singled out by speakers, who thanked them and stressed they would not be forgotten.

It was clear what was being honored Monday: America and all those who have fought and died in the name of their country.

“Your attendance sends a clear message regarding the importance you place on this day and what it means, and the honor that we feel for the people that we have lost,” Col. Merry said.

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