Fernandina Beach honors the fallen: Memorial Day 2018

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 28, 2018 2:58 p.m.

VFW Post Commander Al Lorentson presided over 2018 Memorial Day Observance.

Undoubtedly helped along by the invocation offered by RADM USN (Ret.) Gene Kendall, the sun appeared through overcast skies as Fernandina Beach paid tribute to the nation’s fallen during its Memorial Day Ceremony.  This year’s observance was sponsored by VFW Byrd-Wallace Post 4351.

Post Commander Al Lorentson delivered opening remarks and after some preliminaries, introduced keynote speaker Pierre Muentnich, U.S. Army (Ret.), a Vietnam veteran who served in the First Cavalry Division, First Brigade Airborne Infantry from 1965 to 1966. Muentnich, who was wounded four times, holds the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart.  He noted that 2.7M troops served in Vietnam, of which only 850K are alive today.  In a short speech he thanked those who served in the Vietnam conflict.

Calvin Atwood’s widow Carol Ann (red shirt) joined in singing America the Beautiful.

Lorentson singled out recently deceased World War II Marine Calvin Atwood for special mention during his opening remarks.  Atwood, a Marine wounded at Iwo Jima, was known for his eloquent speeches and writings on combat and those with whom he served.  He gave many keynote speeches over the years at ceremonies honoring veterans in Fernandina Beach.  His wife, Carol Ann, attended this year’s ceremony.  She said, “I couldn’t be anywhere else today.”

The City of Fernandina Beach was well represented at the ceremony.  Members of the Fernandina Beach Police Department appeared in dress uniforms and presented the flag, the Police Auxiliary directed traffic away from the event and on to side streets.  Mayor John Miller, Vice Mayor Len Kreger, Commissioners Phil Chapman and Chip Ross also attended.

(l-r);Retiring county Veterans Service Officer John Martin, incoming Veterans Services Officer Bob Sullivan, Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Len Kreger

In addition to those already mentioned, program participants included Ed Cook, who gave stirring renditions of the National Anthem and God Bless the USA; the Amelia Island DAR Chapter delegation, members of which read the names county service members who died in service to the nation; and Doug Shankel of BIGSHOW Entertainment, who provided TAPS.

Whether due to concerns about Tropical Storm Alberto or other issues, the ceremony was not as well attended as in previous years.  It lasted only about 30 minutes before the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department conducted its annual laying of the wreath in the Amelia River in honor of those who service members who perished on the sea.

Ancient cedar tree protects the grave of a veteran laid to rest in Bosque Bello Cemetery. (Photo courtesy Peggy Lehosit)

There were other commemorations of local sacrifice as well.  The Kiwanis Club erected a “Field of Honor” with signs in the Centre Street pocket park representing local residents who died in combat.  And despite heavy rains, citizens decorated the graves of veterans in Bosque Bello Cemetery with small American flags.

“And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.” –Joseph Rodman Drake