Flagler County, FL – On a day that was both bittersweet and inspiring, Memorial Day across Flagler County gave residents a chance to mourn those who have been lost, while respectfully paying homage to their sacrifices over 240 years to ensure Americans live in the greatest nation on Earth.
While his brother-in-law did not die in combat, but from a brain tumor, it was his dedication to the nation that inspired Palm Coast City Councilman Nick Klufas as he led the Palm Coast ceremony in Heroes Park on Monday.
Standing tall as keynote speaker US Congressman Colonel Michael Waltz recounted the loss of friends on the battlefield, and Palm Coast Gold Star families placed a wreath in remembrance of their loved ones, those gathered stood shoulder to shoulder in support of lives given for our country, something Gold Star mother Cathy Heighter appreciated.
“It was very important for me to be here this morning to lay the wreath in honor and remembrance of all of our fallen heroes,” said Heighter, who said she hopes to see the continued support of veterans and military families from the community.
“Of course, I lost my son in Iraq in 2003 and I want to continue to honor his service and sacrifice and all of those who have served and are fallen heroes for our country.”
Across the county later that morning, in the midst of patriotic poems, a rousing patriotic musical performance and the placing of the wreaths, it was the words of Medal of Honor recipient US Army (retired) SFC Melvin Morris that urged the community to honor those who have come before by continuing to be of service.
“It’s very rare to meet someone who has earned the Medal of Honor award and it’s an honor when they take time to talk to us,” said Flagler County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien.
“It’s my understanding that Flagler County is home to over 13,000 veterans and we know how important it is to thank them as often as we can and do the right thing to remember them.”
Throughout the day, the message of service reminded those who have served of their earliest days.
After multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, former Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Julia Nesheiwat, a commissioner for the US Arctic Research Commission said ROTC helped build her foundation.
“I actually started off in ROTC at Stetson University, not too far from here. It was ROTC that really gave me the leadership skills, the training to work together in a team effort and it wasn’t until 9/11 that I was deployed, but to me that taught me everything,” she said. “That was my platform for giving back to the community, understanding service and country, and doesn’t matter what race, religion or creed you are, being able to tie that in with your career path, and that’s what I was able to do with my Army career. It’s been an honor from that stand point.”
“To be here today on Memorial Day amongst these veterans and Gold Star family members, it was very emotional,” shared Nesheiwat. “Being here to reflect on the amazing sacrifice and courage of each and every one of them is tremendous.”
2017 Flagler County Veteran of the Year Sisco Deen joined the Florida National Guard at a very young age, and wife Gloria Deen was one of the nation’s first US Peace Corps volunteers. Both encourage service from an early age for future generations.
“I think it’s really important because it’s not so beneficial for the people you serve, though it is, but it’s really beneficial for the people who are serving, because they are really the ones that are learning, the young people,” said Gloria Deen.
As a member of the Matanzas High School JROTC, Ethan Drost was moved by the dedication and words of the day’s speakers and volunteers through JROTC.
“It’s an honor to take part in these ceremonies and give back to my community what it gives to me,” said the young man.
Set on attending the US Military Academy at West Point before entering military service, he was inspired by the words of Congressman Waltz who spoke at both ceremonies about the value of service.
“My call to action is keep serving for those of us who did make it home, serve your community, serve your country, serve your neighbors, and be worthy – every day that we wake up, to be worthy,” said Waltz.
“I think (ROTC) it’s a fantastic platform. Number one, I’m pushing to expand the number of Junior ROTC’s all over the country and then to make STEM curriculum mandatory within those ROTCs so we get kids serving and we get kids prepared for the workforce of the future.”
Greg Peters, pastor for Parkview Church recognized the meaningful gathering during the Palm Coast ceremony, and the importance of remembering those who have given their lives in service to freedom.
“It’s an opportunity to embrace our freedom,” said Peters. “Freedom plays out in so many ways, on so many levels, and so as I was here today, I was thinking – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of press, freedom of religion, you have it all coming together and you’re reminded in a very, very powerful way why these freedoms are ours today. We thank God for the men and women who have provided these freedoms we enjoy and probably take for granted on a daily basis.”
Featured photo: David Lydon, Flagler County Veterans Services Officer pays homage to the fallen during the Flagler County Memorial Day Ceremony on May 31, 2021.