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A solemn morning at Maple Leaf
With more than 800 U.S. flags flapping gently over the graves of military veterans, a sizable group of Oak Harbor residents gathered on a sunny Monday morning for a solemn Memorial Day ceremony at Maple Leaf Cemetery.
“I was particularly glad to seen the number of families with kids so they’ll understand freedom is not free,” said Ben Bunnell, a Navy veteran and member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7392.
Bunnell, his voice alternating between gruff and cracked with emotion, gave the opening comments to the crowd of approximately 200. He emphasized that Memorial Day was created for one reason. “This day is to honor our fallen,” he said, thanking those who died fighting for their country, and particularly remembering the thousands of MIA’s who are presumed dead.
After quoting Lincoln at Gettysburg, Bunnell offered the reason for the gathering: “We’re trying to perpetuate the idea that this great nation deserves that last measure of respect,” which is giving one’s life for one’s country.
Speakers for the American Legion and Fleet Reserve offered similar thoughts in short speeches interspersed with prayer and the chiming of a bell in remembrance of those who have died in service to their country. As the bell rang, the crowd was asked to pause and, “In silence, breathe a prayer for our absent shipmates, now on the staff of our Supreme Commander.”
After the laying of wreaths in remembrance, the short ceremony came to an end, but the day wasn’t over. The Legion, VFW and Fleet Reserve volunteers packed up and left for Sunnyside Cemetery near Coupeville, where the ceremony was repeated for the Central Whidbey crowd. Afterwords, they gathered at the VFW Hall in Oak Harbor to share more memories.