“There are 10,000-plus names in this park, and every one of them was a telegram or a phone call,” said Ken Rollins, the event organizer. “They fought so the people that’s in church today can in fact go to that church; they fought and they died.”
Rollins said Sunday that he has taken a lot of heat from members of the community who are mad that the ceremony was on the Sabbath. But Rollins said the ceremony to honor both living and departed military veterans was about both God and country.
The ceremony at times felt like a church service.
There were people in their Sunday dress. There was music and prayer. There were tears and hugs and laughter. There were people seated in rows, listening with respect. There was a palpable reverence when men and women in uniform performed the fallen comrade ceremony and friends and loved ones of departed veterans spoke their names and left flowers in their memory. There were members of the crowd who swayed with raised hands to hymns such as “Amazing Grace.” There were a few who shouted ‘amen.’
Some of the most emphatic of these were given to Rollins when he explained the importance of the ceremony. “Because on that wall over there, there’s 51 names that died in Pearl Harbor,” he said. “When the Japanese zeroes came in Dec. 7, 1941, guess what day of the week that was? Sunday, 10 o’clock.” Amen, they said amid applause.
“This is Veterans Day, a day we celebrate veterans and those people whose name are on the wall up there didn’t get to be veterans,” he said after the ceremony, adding that they didn’t get to stand and be recognized for their service or ride in a parade.
“I myself go to church every Sunday, and I know most of y’all probably do,” said Ron Richey, commandant of the local Marine Corps League detachment. “But we know where we’re supposed to be, so we don’t need no excuses.”
To close the ceremony, Thomas Van Dyke, himself a veteran, offered up a prayer thanking God for those men and women who have given their lives for their country. “Thank you,” he continued, “for those who came back to us to give more service.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.