Memorial Day Ceremony in Dover a poignant affair

DOVER — Col. Joel Safranek, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base, said he and many others at the base are no strangers to the dignity, honor and respect that is given to those service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending America.

After all, Dover Air Force Base is home to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs organization that serves as the “coming home” point for soldiers who have perished in other countries before being reunited with their families for eternity.

Col. Safranek served as the guest speaker at the Memorial Day Ceremony at Veterans Triangle in downtown Dover on Monday, where the names of more than 350 Kent County military veterans who have died over the past year were read aloud and remembered.

“With the Air Force Mortuary Affairs organization being on Dover, we’re continually reminded of service members’ ultimate sacrifice throughout the year,” Col. Safranek said. “As this community has done with this event, dignity, honor and respect are at the heart of this mission at Dover.

“Stories (of fallen soldiers) make it to the spotlight on Memorial Day weekend but are part of Dover’s mission every day.”

The Memorial Day Ceremony was a collaborative effort by the Delaware Veterans Post No. 2 and the American Legion’s Walter Fox Post 2. It took place at the convergence of Loockerman and State streets and Kings

Highway and drew a large crowd with bright sunny skies above and a gentle breeze blowing.

Col. Safranek went on to point out that most service members who have died in recent years have not been due to combat.

He said that since he began his career in the Air Force 23 years ago that he knew six service members personally who have died, including one in an F-15E in a combat mission over Iraq in the first few weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“As saddened as I am over their losses, you may have noticed a very unique thread – only one was killed in combat,” Col. Safranek said. “Many in this crowd cannot say the same. For many of you, the majority of those you know who were killed fell in combat.

Reading the names of the fallen.

“Although not a perfect record, our nation and its military has done extremely well at holding such a high advantage against our enemies. We do not experience the amount of losses we once did during previous conflicts.

“Maintaining this type of advantage is never a guarantee. It comes from the immense technological advantage our nation holds. Unfortunately, this advantage is challenged every year.”

Col. Safranek noted the history of Memorial Day in the United States, saying more than 1 million service members have died in defending the United States since the American Revolution.

“Looking back on American history, Americans have honored their fallen service members long before Memorial Day officially became a national holiday in 1971,” he said. “Ceremonies date back to 1868 when Americans, following the end of the Civil War, held ceremonies to honor the Civil War’s fallen.

“At that time it went by a different name – they called it Decoration Day. But the gratitude and the heartfelt appreciation for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice were at the core of the ceremony.”

He went on to add, “Having a personal connection to a fallen service member has remained a constant throughout our history. For those who serve today, this connection to Memorial Day remains personal.”

Capt. Philip Stewart, Dover Air Force Base chaplain, bookended the one-hour event with Invocation and Benediction prayers.

Mike Passero, from American Legion Walter L. Fox Post 2 and the event’s Master of Ceremonies, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance before Geena Edmandson gave a stirring rendition of the National Anthem.
Jonathon Riggins, commander of the American Legion Walter L. Fox Post 2, and Lester Link, commander of Delaware Veterans Post 2, Inc., alternated in reading the list of the deceased veterans in Kent County that have died over the past year, the most poignant part of the ceremony. The remembrance lasted around 20 minutes.

“It’s kind of emotional knowing that our generation now is making that list so much longer,” Mr. Riggins said.

Mr. Link said it is a difficult task for anyone to do.

“It’s very somber, especially when there’s some names on that list that we’ve known for years,” he said, “and to stand up here and read their names off, it’s just a very somber experience.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen introduced Col. Safranek before he presented his speech, after which representatives from 21 groups presented floral tributes in the Veterans Triangle and offered up salutes.

The Dover Air Force Base Honor Guard then performed a 21-gun salute that echoed off the buildings downtown before Taps was played and Commanders Riggins and Link joined together to raise the American flag.

For Bill Hare, president of Dover City Council, the ceremony gives him goosebumps every year.

“This recognizes our veterans,” Mr. Hare said. “Without them our country wouldn’t be where it is. I’m a veteran myself of Vietnam so this means a lot for me and a good friend of mine had just died who was a veteran, so that list gets longer every year. Without these people, the country wouldn’t be where we are today and have the freedoms that we have.”

Joan Bilger, from VFW Post 2931 in Ellendale, was handing out poppies in remembrance of the fallen heroes and accepting donations for veteran’s causes.

“To me, Memorial Day serves to remember all of the men and women who have died in all the wars and their sacrifices,” she said. “I went to the Georgetown (Memorial Day) ceremony on Sunday and this one (in Dover on Monday) and they were both so nice.

“It’s always nice to take a step back and honor our country’s true heroes.”

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