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Memorial Day at Veterans Park

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF News

Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Pensacola hosted its annual Memorial Day ceremony on Sunday. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody was there.

Veterans Park Foundation President Jack Brown served as Master of Ceremonies for the program, which was held under a cloudless sky and typical May temperatures around 90 degrees. In his opening remarks, Brown pointed to a couple of new projects under construction – the Revolutionary War monument, and new Wall South information kiosk.

Brown then introduced the featured speaker – Retired Marine Corps General William Nyland – whose aviator call sign is “Spider,” and who was a classmate of Brown’s during training and was assistant commandant of the Marine Corps from 2002-05.

“I was privileged and proud to wear the uniform for a little over 40 years,” said Nyland. “And in my personal opinion, save for the clergy, there’s no higher calling than to serve your nation in the cloth of your nation.”

Nyland told the audience that, for him, the U-S president that captured the gravity of Memorial Day the best was James Garfield, the 20th President. Garfield’s quote, said Nyland, was short but right on the money.

“And I quote,” said Nyland, ‘For love of country, they accepted death,’ unquote.” 

Nyland also provided a history lesson of sorts on Memorial Day, which began in 1867 in Columbus, Mississippi when women there cleaned and decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers. The practice spread and became known as “Decoration Day” which then evolved into “Memorial Day.” Congress in 1971 authorized Memorial Day for the last Monday in May, and to cover those who died in all of the nation’s wars.

After Nyland’s address, a plaque was presented to the family of Staff Sgt. Jesse Thomas, who was killed last year in Afghanistan. It will join ten others at the park, honoring other local troops who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This was also the first Memorial Day program to be overseen by the 14-member board that took over in 2012, when the former Veterans Park Foundation was dissolved and the site placed under city control.

In closing the ceremony the Foundation’s Jack Brown had one more piece of advice:

“As you enjoy the rest of this day of reflection, remember that it was purchased for you at a price.”