Thousands honor, celebrate veterans on Whidbey Island

Thousands of people visited festive Coupeville Saturday to honor fallen veterans, while others attended more solemn cemetery ceremonies on Monday.

Memorial Day weekend in Coupeville was highlighted by Saturday’s annual parade going down the arterials and winding up at Town Park, where a remembrance ceremony took place.

“It’s a pleasure to see so many people here for this important occasion,” Mayor Nancy Conard said to start the ceremony.

Capt. Jay Johnston, commanding officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, also spoke, saying that while everybody’s concern is focused on the veterans serving in the Middle East, we should never forget the importance of remembering those who gave their lives in previous wars.

“We acknowledge that their struggle — the ancient struggle to be free — goes on today,” Johnston said.

Several veterans from World War II — Jim Stansel, Bill Etheridge and Joe McGraw — spoke about the sacrifices so many of their friends made.

“Each year this group of veterans grow smaller and smaller,” Stansel said of the group of Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance. He even introduced some of the survivors.

McGraw was a fighter ace in World War II. He asked the audience to take a minute to remember seven of his friends who died on the Gambier Bay, a Jeep carrier that was sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Following the ceremony, Navy Band Northwest performed at the gazebo and the Central Whidbey Lions Club provided a free hot dog lunch with food donated by Red Apple Prairie Market.

Prior to the ceremony, people gathered along the flag-lined Main Street of Coupeville to witness the annual parade. More than

70 entries ranging from community groups, Little League baseball players and school bands participated.

Volunteers from Gifts from the Hearts pushed shopping carts down the parade route, even taking time to perform a synchronized loop.

“It took us a week to get that down,” volunteer Bill Young joked to the crowd. The effort resulted in about six tubs full of food items Saturday.

Members of the Rock’n Doodle Four-H Club brought their ducks and chickens with them on the parade route.

“We can’t get over how many people want to see and touch the animals,” Langley resident Stinger Anderson said while walking the parade route with Mildred the duck.

The parade provided light-hearted family fun and a chance for people to see their veterans. Pearl Harbor survivors and veterans groups rode classic cars through town. U.S. Navy sailors were busy handing out flags to patriotic parade goers lining the street.

Coupeville’s events Saturday were just one of several scheduled throughout the weekend. On Monday, ceremonies were held in Coupeville and Oak Harbor to honor veteran’s buried in cemeteries.

About 100 people gathered for the Memorial Day service at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor. The annual event was hosted by the American Legion this year, and featured participants from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, NAS Whidbey Island, the Fleet Reserve and the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Oak Harbor High School.

Colors were presented by members of the NJROTC and an invocation was given by Navy Chaplain Philip King. NAS Whidbey’s executive officer, Cmdr. Chris Phillips, spoke of America’s commitment to preserving the memory of those who died in service to their country.

“There is no greater tribute than to lay down one’s life for another in uniform,” he said. “America will never cease to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

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