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Paying tribute at sea

By Staff | Dec 13, 2011

More than 25 boats participated in a tribute at sea by honoring veterans buried and lost at sea.

The local event -one of 600 different ceremonies that happened simultaneously at noon Saturday, Dec. 10- is the first floating location designated by Wreaths Across America in the United States. It occurred three miles off of Fort Myers Beach.

Public service agencies from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs & Border Patrol, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission as well as police and fire departments boats from Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Sanibel joined Sea Tow and civilian boats led by “Key of Sea,” a charter boat captained by event coordinators Pat and Nancy McCarn in the touching tribute.

The military ceremony featured an invocation, presentation of colors, honor guard, notable guest speakers, bagpipers, drummers, 21-gun salute, “taps,” a benediction and a wreath laying service to honor veterans’ graves. Nancy placed seven biodegradable wreaths -representing the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and Prisoners of War/ Missing in Action- one by one in the Gulf.

“We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day,” she said. “Thank God the weather was with us this year.”

The McCarns have organized the local event for three years and have seen an increase in participation each year.

“We are very fortunate to live in this part of the country where boaters can be involved in a ceremony at this time of the year to honor veterans lost and buried at sea who do not actually have a grave on land,” said Capt. Pat. “Their families are very grateful that their loved ones are not forgotten.”

Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization founded to expand the annual wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Maine businessman Morrill Worcester began the wreath laying in 1992.

On Saturday, 100,000 sponsored wreaths were laid in the national ceremony.

“This ceremony is for the men and women who have served this great nation over the years by protecting our freedom. Many have not returned home, and we especially remember them today,” said Chaplain Larry Ager, a retired Army Colonel who gave the invocation and benediction. “We are privileged to honor the brave men and women who laid down their lives so that we could live in freedom.”

Wreaths Across America is held on the second Saturday in December every year. It is held within the same week as the anniversary of the bombing attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred on Dec. 7, 1941.

“That devastation resulted in the lost of more than 2,400 American lives,” said Commander Jack Wagner, who further commented on World War II. “By the time this war was over, the losses totaled over 300,000 American lives.”

“The Christmas They Never Had” was the theme of this year’s ceremony.

“We are here today to pay tribute to those who lost their lives both on land and at sea while serving our country,” said Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan. “The sacrifices and freedoms protected are not forgotten.”

“We are also here to remember all those in uniform who have served our country since,” added Sanibel Vice Mayor Mick Denham.

After the holiday wreaths were laid, the Harp & Thistle Pipe Band played “Amazing Grace” and members VFW Post 8463 performed the 21-gun salute and “taps.”

“We welcome you to the shared front doors to Lee County, Sanibel and the Town of Fort Myers Beach,” said Assistant to the FMB Town Manager

Vince Cummings, who quoted President Theodore Roosevelt during his speech. “We celebrate the victories for those who have gone before us as we reflect upon their shared sacrifices here in the Gulf of Mexico for the only at-sea event with Wreaths Across America.”

During closing comments, Capt. Pat thanked all attendees for their participation.

“Wreaths Across America hopes that one day every veterans’ resting place will be adorned by a holiday wreath,” he said.