A Memorial Day Celebration Like No Other

— Created May 26, 2021 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

Oak Harbor Lions’ third annual Memorial Day Ceremony, slated for Monday at 10 a.m. at Maple Leaf Cemetery, combines the very best of tradition with a 2021 spin. This year’s socially-distanced, in-person event will also be live-streamed for the convenience of those unable to attend physically. But whether in-person or virtual, all are cordially invited to “A Memorial Day Celebration Like No Other.”

At least 12 different groups have volunteered to host the service virtually, ranging from veteran’s service organizations (VSOs) to local private businesses, according to Kelly Davidson, media contact and Oak Harbor Lions Club service chairman.

“The 2020 virtual ceremony received at least 8,000 views within 48 hours. Viewers from France, British Columbia, New York City, South Carolina, and Georgia tuned in,” said Davidson of last year’s event. This year the event is hosted by the Oak Harbor Lions Club and Fleet Reserve Branch 97.

“Our aim this year is to present a memorable service of appreciation to service members who’ve lost their lives, and to present it in such a way that as many people as possible could see it, too,” Davidson said.

No matter how people choose to attend, they’ll witness a respectful service that also pays tribute to those service and community members who have lost their lives to COVID-19, Davidson said.

 “We’ve all heard that ‘this past year has been like no other,’ and that’s been especially true when it comes to our military,” she said. “It’s impacted our armed forces similar to the 1918 flu pandemic a century ago. The imposed isolation has also taken its toll; we’ve seen elevated rates of self-harm among them as well.

“That being said, we know the community at large has also suffered. So we wanted to acknowledge them too,” continued Davidson.

A diverse range of speakers and presenters representing local and national government, NAS Whidbey Island, regional Lions Club officers, local VSOs plus many others will be in attendance. Program highlights include recognition of Gold Star families and a traditional wreath-laying segment. This year, the Fleet Reserve, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion will lay wreaths in memory of Master Chief Joseph A. Marketti Jr. (Following the Maple Leaf ceremony, the VSOs will proceed to Coupeville’s Sunnyside Cemetery and place additional wreaths there at 1:30 p.m.)

Davidson said some other features unique to this year’s ceremony,promise to enhance the service to an even greater degree.

“We are thrilled to welcome not one, but four different Color Guard details to honor our flag. These include the Sons of the American Revolution, ORION Squadron Sea Cadets, Oak Harbor High School NJROTC, and NASWI Color Guard,” she said. “Along that note, we’ll also have on hand a historical flag display courtesy of The Sons of the American Revolution, and ‘A Toast to the Flag,’ performed by the National Sojourners.”

The ORION Squadron Sea Cadets will fill other roles in addition to their Color Guard detail, Davidson said. One member will recite a special, traditional Memorial Day poem, “Decoration Day,” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

“I’m very pleased with how our Sea Cadets have stepped up this year for the ceremony. Not only will they be acting as ushers to seat the VIPs, but we’ll have the assist of their instrumentalists during the “America the Beautiful” rendition. Their bag-piper will lead our piping squad (three pipes) during the final song, ‘Amazing Grace,’” she said.

 “This year we are also pleased to welcome the Kent-Meridian Rifle Team from VFW Post 6785 to perform a rifle volley,” Davidson went on, explaining she’d tried to get one every year to no avail. The team’s commander is a 1972 graduate of Oak Harbor High School.

That’s not the only local connection, though. Not surprisingly, they happen to have Navy connections as well.

“Following the rifle team’s performance, the NASWI Honor Guard will carry out the solemn folding of the flag tradition. A model of the Nimitz, courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum, will also be on display. Finally, a SAR fly-over will cap off the end of the ceremony,” said Davidson.

Many individuals and groups pulled together this year to plan a reverent, multi-faceted service that Davidson described as befitting of those being honored and memorialized.

“The sheer level of participation and volunteerism has really overwhelmed me,” she said. “It’s been so gratifying to have numerous offers of time, labor and financial donations. The monetary donations in particular have helped greatly to defray the costs of offering a virtual service, which is something we felt to be an absolute must-have,”

After paying expenses, the proceeds will be divided four ways, between the OH Lions Club, American Legion Post 129, Fleet Reserve Branch 97, and VFW Post 7392.

 “These VSOs, which serve so faithfully our military members, deserve all our support,” Davidson said. She notes donations will even be accepted the day of the ceremony, though the ceremony itself is a free event.

Maple Leaf Cemetery is located at 1961 NE 16th Street in Oak Harbor. Doors open for the event at 9 a.m. Island Transit and golf cart shuttles will provide free transportation from parking lots for those with difficulty walking. The livestreamed event can be found at facebook.com/ohlionsclub. More information is also available at ohlions.org.

Attendees should be masked for the socially-distanced, in-person event. Chairs will be provided for the convenience of those attending, but “people are more than welcome to bring their own, as they wish,” said Davidson. “We want people to feel comfortable and relaxed.”