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Veterans Memorial Park Hosts Annual Memorial Day Service

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Hundreds of people turned out for Sunday’s Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Pensacola.

Veterans Park Foundation President Butch Hansen served as Master of Ceremonies for the program, which was held under some clouds with gusty winds, along with typical late spring temperatures well into the 80s.

“We’re very honored that you’re sharing this very solemn time to remember those who made this sacrifice, in this place that memorializes them every day,” Hansen said. “This remembrance is what Memorial Day is all about.”

The guest speaker was retired Marine Corps Lt. General Duane Thiessen – who’s now the president and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and president of the National Flight Academy. He said for some, Memorial Day is an abstract idea, more suited to the start of summer and -- for these parts -- a trip to the beach. But for those in attendance, it’s personal and oftentimes emotional.

During his brief address – just over seven minutes -- Thiessen asked the audience to “indulge” him, by shaking hands with those sitting around them. Then he delivered his point.

“Some of you shook hands with a person who lost a dear friend in service to our country,” said Thiessen. “Some of you shook hands with a parent who lost a son or a daughter. [But] none of you shook hands with those who sacrificed and went before. And that’s why we’re here.”

Some of those being remembered, said Thiessen, died in their youth -- at the height of their energy and talent -- while others who survived the fight passed away after age had taken its toll. But he added that all of them likely would have wanted to do what others are doing this weekend.

“They would have loved to go to barbecue and have a beer,” Thiessen said. “They would have loved to hang out with family and friends. But they’re not here, and we are. And the reason that we can have these wonderful, fulfilling, fun-filled days, is because they paid the price.”

And that led to Thiessen’s other point.

“Remember them, give thanks, and celebrate. I’m going to say it again – celebrate,” said Thiessen. “If they were here they would. They would celebrate. And they would want you to as well.”

The ceremony also honored – with a wreath -- the Vietnam and Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club, which completed its 20th annual Police Escorted Memorial Day ride on Sunday. Other wreaths recognized the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

After a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps, Veterans Park Foundation Butch Hansen offered one final thought in closing.

“Please remember – because they rose to their challenges, they made it easier to rise to ours. Let us be worthy of their sacrifice,” said Hansen.

On Monday, the annual Memorial Day service at Barrancas National Cemetery begins at 9:00 a.m. The City of Milton’s observance is set for 10:00 at the Veterans Memorial Plaza. And also at ten o’clock, the Crestview Disabled American Veterans chapter will host a service at Live Oak Park Memorial Cemetery.