After a sunny weekend, dark clouds and a steady drizzle Monday seemed to enhance the sad experience of the Memorial Day ceremony at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor.
A crowd of several hundred stretched out between the flag-emblazoned grave markers and columbaria, many sharing whatever umbrellas were available. Folding chairs had been placed in neat rows, but most chose not to sit on their seats beaded with fat raindrops.
The rain hit its peak during the opening prayer, and then started easing up. By the closing words at approximately 10:30 a.m., umbrellas had been folded and the sponsors, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Fleet Reserve, quickly packed up their moveable ceremony, heading to Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville for a second solemn presentation. Afterwards, all were invited to lunch at the Fleet Reserve.
George Brown, president of the Fleet Reserve, was first at the podium at Maple Leaf, noting that more than one million men and women have died defending their country since its founding. “Each was loved and cherished by family and friends,” he said.
Capt. Susan Lichtenstein, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, was the guest speaker. “There is no greater sacrifice than to give your life for others,” she told the crowd. She alluded to Abraham Lincoln, whose speech at Gettysburg noted the “inadequacy of words” at such times.
But she also gave a spirited defense of her branch of the armed forces, to which she has dedicated 26 years of her life. “The best defense is a fighting Navy,” she said and, alluding to a speech by Teddy Roosevelt, added it’s also the best protector of the peace.
Leonard Little, American Legion Post 129 Commander, solemnly stated, “Those who have gone to their eternal rest passed the torch of freedom on to us.” He said volunteers placed 560 U.S. flags on the graves of service members buried at Maple Leaf, and another 270 flags at Sunnyside Cemetery. “They’re our fallen heroes and these numbers are growing,” he said.
David Hollett, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7391 in Oak Harbor, visually surveyed the cemetery and said, “Wherever the body of a comrade lies the ground is hallowed.” Several symbolic wreaths and flowers were laid on a grave by the various service clubs and their auxiliaries. Daughters of the American Revolution were on hand, as they were at every ceremony Monday on Whidbey Island.
Fleet Reserve performed its solemn tolling of the bells ceremony for lost shipmates, and a musician standing under a tree beyond the gathering played Taps as members of the crowd struggled with their emotions. So ended Memorial Day at Maple Leaf Cemetery.