Large turnout at Coral Ridge for annual Memorial Day service
One by one, Theja Anderson placed carnations in a small vase beneath the traditional helmet and gunbelt memorialized in metal atop the Honor Feature at Coral Ridge Cemetery Monday.
She lit a small candle, and then a second, struggling a bit with the breeze before placing them at the monument’s base.
She kissed her fingertips, a trace of a smile at her lips as she pressed her hand near the small bouquet of red that now bloomed near the plaque for her husband, Paul Anderson Jr., a Vietnam War vet.
“He just passed away seven months ago,” she explained.
Anderson, her son Paul, and sister Deshani were among the hundreds of Cape residents who came to honor the fallen and thank the living for their service to their country at a Memorial Day ceremony in the Veteran’s Honor Garden at Coral Ridge Cemetery.
For many, it also was a day to remember battle stations gone by and the brothers-in-arms who did not come home.
“Just like everyone, I’m connecting with my patriotism,” said Jules Verbeeck, a Vietnam vet who served in the U.S. Marine Corp. from 1965-’69.
He held a small American flag and wore a Coast Guard cap marking his father’s service in WW II.
Virginia Gerst was there to help her husband of four years commemorate the day.
“My husband is a WW II veteran, and I wanted to take him out to the service,” Gerst said.
Louie H. Gerst, now 89, enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and served in the Pacific.
She smiled and looked over at her husband, seated next to her in the shade.
“Every time I ask him if he wants to go on a cruise ship he says he’s seen enough water,” she said.
Steve and Cathy MacKellar turned out simply to remember those who served.
“To honor our veterans,” Steve MacKellar said succinctly.
The service followed a traditional Memorial Day program of invocation, National Anthem, speakers, wreath presentation, 21-gun salute and Taps.
It also included a “roll call” for veterans who had died over the past year and had come to rest at the cemetery, which offers special services for veterans, including free burial assistance for the homeless and indigent.
Cape Coral Councilman Bill Deile, a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm, was the keynote speaker.
He marked the addition of six new names to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. and drew some tears among the audience as he read from one of many letters left there in memory of those who did not make it home.
“When I was younger it (Memorial Day) meant a holiday and picnic,” said Deile after the service. “Now it has a deeper meaning; you gain wisdom, hopefully, as you age.”
As the program ended, many, like Anderson and her family, visited the resting places of loved ones throughout the flag-bedecked grounds.
Others mingled, thanking those in uniform or exchanging stories as they queued up for refreshments provided by Dicicco Quality Meats.
Attendance was up this year, said organizers, who were pleased with the turnout.
“We had about 450 in attendance, that’s up from last year’s 350,” said Coral Ridge Cemetery General Manager Courtney Knerr. “We stuck with local participation and got a lot of positive comment on that.”
Organizations taking part this year included the Mariner High School JROTC, the Harney Point VFW 8463, American Legion Post 90 and Boy Scout Troop 8463.
Alyssa Kalugdan, of the Cape Coral High School JROTC, sang the National Anthem, and, with the Boy Scouts, led the crowd in God Bless America.
“And she did an excellent job,” Knerr said.
Coral Ridge Funeral Home & Cemetery, on Pine Island Road, hosts the event annually.
“We do it to pay tribute to the veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Knerr said. “And we do it for their families and friends.”