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Ceremony at Coral Ridge honors the fallen, their families

By Staff | May 31, 2016

Memorial Day was again marked in Cape Coral with a traditional ceremony at the Veterans Honor Garden at Coral Ridge Funeral Home and Cemetery, the final resting place for many of Lee County’s veterans and their spouses.

As always, the somber event was standing room only as veterans’ groups, families of the fallen and others came to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

For them, the hot dogs and beach could wait a little bit.

Chuck Warren, who served as emcee, said what they do hinges on the community and other organizations.

“Our Memorial Day is every day. We treat our veterans as such, and that’s very important to us,” Warren said.

With the huge American Flag suspended in the air by two firetrucks providing the backdrop, the day started with a motorcycle ride-in by local Vietnam vets, followed by a flyover from a Huey helicopter.

From there, many public speakers took to the podium to give their thanks to the fallen and to remember the event wasn’t just for them, but serves as a reminder to future generations that the torch of freedom is theirs to carry.

“To the veterans who have given the ultimate sacrifice, we owe an unending debt of gratitude for the sacrifice you made,” Warren said. “The pain you endured, the hardship you suffered, to ensure the flame of freedom never be extinguished, as well as to your families.”

The event also featured Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki, who read a proclamation, the local singing troupe TLC, who performed the national anthem and the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and Roy St. Onge, who sang “America the Beautiful.”

The event concluded with the traditional gun salute from VFW Post 8463, and the playing of “taps” by Bob Day.

Guest speakers included Army veteran Teal Travis, Gold Star parent James Cunningham, and Army veteran, Col. (Ret.) Steven Epkins.

Travis provided one of the few moments of laughter as she recalled how she overcame her fear of heights by becoming a parachute rigger and performing 42 jumps.

She also quoted John 15:13, which would become a theme throughout many of the proceedings, which reads “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”

“I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I wanted a sense of community and family, and I found that in the United States Army,” Travis said.

Epkins said many of those who died didn’t ask to be sent overseas to fight, or volunteered because of a love for fighting, but for that wanting to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

“They were ordinary people who responded at extraordinary and extreme times. They rose to the nation’s call because they wanted to protect the nation that had given them and us so much,” Epkins said.

Epkins also bemoaned the fact that Memorial Day has become more like a day off, the climax of a three-day weekend.

“It’s become big sales at the mall or car dealerships and fighting the traffic to get to the beach or lakeside,” Epkins said. “Many Americans have no experience with our connection to the military.”

Epkins said many veterans don’t like to talk about their time in battle, but maybe they should.

“You should talk about what you endured, because of you don’t, Memorial Day will continue to be about malls. Memorial Day will fade away,” Epkins said.