Moments of reflection, celebration and honor peppered a full Memorial Day weekend on Whidbey Island.
The unofficial start of the summer season gave islanders a little bit of everything – clouds, rain, wind and sunshine – but nothing could dash the spirits of those intent on observing the reason behind the holiday weekend.
Saturday morning found volunteers from Oak Harbor’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Whitehead-Muzzall Post 7392 and American Legion George Morris Post 129 heading up flag placement at both Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor and Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville.
Members of the Cub Scouts, NJROTC students from Oak Harbor High School and community members helped place more than 500 United States flags on veterans’ graves.
“We want to show respect to the veterans who gave us our freedom,” said Dennis Jones, American Legion Post 129 Adjutant.
“They matter,” said 14-year-old NJROTC member and volunteer Jonathan Giugliano. “Without them, our country simply wouldn’t be possible. They gave us our freedom.”
In Coupeville, rain fell softly and a chilly wind whipped umbrellas and blankets for those gathered to watch the annual Memorial Day Parade. Bright smiles and good spirits chased the rain away as the parade wore on.
Observers gathered in small clusters as the procession made its way down Main Street to Front Street, and while the crowds weren’t huge due to the weather, they were enthusiastic, as were participants.
Dignitaries included Coupeville town mayor Molly Hughes; Capt. Geoff Moore, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island; Pearl Harbor survivors Alan McKay and Harold Johnson; World War II veteran and parade grand marshal R. Spence Purvis; and WWII veterans Don Clapsaddle, Dennis Loughheed and Win Stites.
There was plenty of red, white and blue on display as dozens of entries celebrated community groups and events and local political representatives and candidates made their way down the parade route. Antique vehicles were decked out as were some animals – real dogs and horses as well as furry mascots representing WAIF and the Whidbey Island Fair.
Monday morning dawned warm and sunny, which may have helped draw one of the largest crowds to ever attend Memorial Services at Sunnyside and Maple Leaf Cemeteries.
The annual event is a joint effort of the VFW, American Legion and the Fleet Reserve Association Branch 97. VFW Post Commander Perry Taylor served as Master of Ceremonies for the service Maple Leaf, which more than 150 people attended.
Representatives and officers from the American Legion, Fleet Reserve, VFW and their auxiliaries paid tribute to fallen veterans by placing flowers and wreaths at the grave marker.
“Wherever a body lies, it is hallowed ground,” said Taylor.
Guest speaker for the event was Vietnam veteran Ben Burnell.
“I was looking around the cemetery as I came in and looking at all these flags,” he said. “They represent probably every religion, every race, every creed, everything we could think of about what this country stands for.”
Burnell spoke of how important the military is not only to protecting this country, but the rest of the world.
“There are thousands and thousands of our deceased veterans in cemeteries all over the world,” he said. “I don’t know of any foreign military cemeteries in the United States. We go to defend freedom and individual rights wherever it needs to be defended.”
Of more than 330 million people in the U.S., said Burnell, they are protected by less than one percent of the population, making the military an exclusive and important part of our country.
“We all have to support that one percent and equip them so they are not here, under one of these flags,” he said. “We do not want to see our young go to war. We don’t want to see them die. But sometimes it’s necessary, and that’s why we honor Memorial Day.”
Washington State Senator Barbara Bailey was among those in attendance. She said he had a very personal reason for being there.
“I lost a brother in the Korean war. He was a brother I never knew; he died the same year I was born,” said Bailey. “It’s important to never forget the price that was paid for what we enjoy every day.”
“I hope you leave here today with the knowledge of why this day is so important and so different than any other day,” Burnell said. “This is not Veterans Day, this is Memorial Day. This is the day we honor the fallen. Keep that in mind today.”