By Morgan Pilz, Contributing Writer
(May 18, 2018) The Ocean Pines’ Veteran’s Memorial at the South Gate Pond has been a site of respect, commemoration, and for the past 11 years, an educational experience for Worcester County fifth graders.
Every Wednesday and Thursday in May, weather permitted, fifth graders from Worcester County schools take a field trip to Ocean Pines to visit the Veteran’s Memorial, where they learn the history and proper etiquette of folding the American flag and hear stories of veterans who fought for freedom in wars past.
The program teaches the students how to properly salute and fold an American flag and provides a brief history behind the flag’s creation.
Capt. Ed Little created the program in 2007. The Ocean Pines Veteran’s Memorial Foundation designated board member Donald McMullen to run the program after Little’s retirement last year. This is his first year at the helm of the program.
“It’s an education outreach for all the fifth graders in Worcester County,” McMullen said. “Our goal is a little over 500 fifth graders, and that includes all of our elementary schools, [including Most] Blessed Sacrament, Worcester Prep, and the home-schooled students. So, we have all those groups that will visit here in the month of May.”
In addition to visiting the memorial, the students are sent home with a booklet highlighting the history behind Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, the creation of the memorial, a brief description of every war from the Revolutionary War onwards, and activities such as crosswords and puzzles.
All of this is taught to the students who come to visit the site every year, with hopes of giving them a new feeling of respect and understanding.
“There’s a sense of pride and patriotism we see after the field trip,” Snow Hill Middle School fifth grade teacher Emily Taylor said. Her class visited the memorial last Thursday.
“They loved learning how to properly fold the flag,” she said.
The students engage in a three-part activity during the field trip. The first part is all about the history of the flag. The second involves shared stories from veterans or family members. The final section demonstrates the proper handling and saluting of the flag, with a presentation by NJROTC students from Stephen Decatur High School.
“I learned so much about what my dad and other soldiers went through,” fifth grader Joey Harmon, 11, said. “I’m glad I got to experience the memorial and I believe every citizen should experience it for themselves.”
Worcester County fifth graders also visit the site during October.
“The concept is for them to learn first of all, to respect the American flag,” said Sharyn O’Hare, board member and co-founder of the memorial. “The kids don’t know, and then we talk to them about stories, [about] those who have fought for their freedom, and we tell them stories of heroes.
“What’s a POW? What’s a band of brothers? What makes somebody do what they do,” she continued. “Our job is to maintain the memorial and provide education for the youth. We think it’s the most important thing we do…to teach our children to respect their freedom.”
The Veterans Memorial first came into consideration in 2003, during the 35th anniversary of Ocean Pines. O’Hare said the memorial began as an idea for a single flagpole.
“What we really wanted was a memorial and not just one flagpole,” O’Hare said. “[It] took a year of planning. We had a group of about 12 core people starting the program. We broke ground in 2004, Veteran’s Day, not knowing how we were going pay for it, because it cost approximately $100,000 to build this place.
“By May 30, 2005, we dedicated this memorial, and we did not owe a penny,” O’Hare added. “It was amazing. We got it all done in six to seven months due to the volunteers of people here. We had local builders, and a lot of generous donations from community people, and it was meant to be for all veterans.”
Many of the bricks laid at the memorial honor both living and deceased veterans and their families. Some bricks reveal a history spanning back to the Revolutionary War. There is also an additional piece of history included within the memorial to consecrate those who fought in foreign wars.
“There’s actually sand under each one of these walls from Normandy beaches,” O’Hare said. “I went to Normandy in the fall before we started to build [the memorial]. I brought back sand and water from the beaches. Then for the dedication on Memorial Day, we mixed it with water from Ocean City and blessed this memorial, to signify those who have fought on foreign soil.”
To learn more about the Veteran’s Memorial in Ocean Pines, visit http://oceanpines.org/recreation-and-parks/parks/worcester-county-veterans-memorial-at-ocean-pines/.