By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(May 24, 2018) The Ocean City/Berlin Rotary Club and Worcester County Veterans Memorial Foundation set out this year to honor 100 area veterans with the inaugural Flags for Heroes display in Ocean Pines.
The effort, although nascent, doubled its goal and today more than 200 flags stand in the field near Racetrack Road and Cathell Road.
Several dozen people braved the soggy grounds of the Veteran’s Memorial park Saturday, Armed Forces Day, for an introduction ceremony to the exhibit. Those hardy spectators were treated to news of the successful campaign, and a poetry reading by Ocean Pines Association General Manager John Bailey.
Cliff Berg of the Rotary Club, co-chair of the event with Marie Gilmore of the Memorial Foundation, said it was a “great collaboration” that brought together both groups to solicit donations from local businesses and community members to help pay for the presentation.
He thanked the association for its help in installing and lighting the display, and recognized attendees Sen. Jim Mathias and Del. Mary Beth Carozza, as well as “commanders and leaders of our veteran’s groups that are here this morning,” including members of the American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America.
“First, I want to thank you all for coming out to a very soggy Veteran’s Memorial park. It’s not always this bad, but it’s been a heck of a week of rain,” Gilmore said, joking it was probably because everyone “prayed for some rain to get rid of all that pollen.”
“I think we all prayed a little too hard,” she said. “But the pollen is gone [and] the weather has cleared for us for this morning’s ceremony, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
Gilmore made it a point to call the event the “first annual,” and said the collaboration of the Rotary Club and Memorial Foundation was highly successful. She singled out Margaret Mudron, Robert Smith and Berg from the Rotary Club, and Linda Shanahan of the Memorial Foundation.
“It’s a project that the Veteran’s Memorial has thought about for a number of years and I’m quite sure that the Rotary Club has had it on their agenda for a few years, but it took a collaboration between the two to be able to make it happen,” she said. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.
“We had asked our community, ‘do you want to honor a hero?’ The answer was a resounding ‘yes,’ so we planned on 100 flags for the first year,” Gilmore continued. “Instead, we have 204 flags our first year, so we can only imagine where it’s going to go from here.”
Gilmore thanked the business owners and individuals who sponsored a flag on behalf of a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
After deciding on the location, the next step would be to approach Bailey to ask for assistance by Ocean Pines’ public works, she said, “Because as you all well know, a flag display must be lit at night.”
“My answer from Mr. Bailey was a resounding, ‘Yes, we can do that and, yes, public works will help.’ And they have been there helping us out every step of the way,” she said.
Bailey said it was wonderful to be “in the midst of a great patriotic environment.”
“When asked to speak today, my mind raced to some pretty cool memories of some patriotic events that I was able to be a part of,” he said.
In 1976, at age 11, Bailey said he participated in a musical celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial while wearing blue pants, a white shirt and a red bowtie.
“And, yes, I played the ukulele and I sang,” he said.
A decade later, while attending Averett University in Danville, Virginia, Bailey said he was present when former House Speaker Tip O’Neill came to speak.
“I was the president of the political science club [and] I was ready to ask him a hardball question … that I just knew was going to trip the speaker of the house up,” he said.
O’Neill, however, was suddenly called back to Washington, D.C. by Secret Service before Bailey could speak. He later found out it was because the U.S. had bombed Libya.
“When he came out of that beautiful southern auditorium building with these big, tall white columns, and remember the white hair? [It was] blowing in the breeze,” he said. “Across the street from the auditorium was an elementary school, and about 250 little students came out and, as he was coming out of the building … they started singing ‘This Land is Your Land’ and every one of them had a little flag waiving.”
On Jan. 29, 1986, the day after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Bailey was standing on a sidewalk on a cold day in Munich.
“I was told about the disaster by my history professor and I quickly purchased an English paper,” Bailey said. “I read the stories on the sidewalk and I never before or since felt like such an ambassador for this great country as I did that day, with those of another country sharing, in German, their condolences and hugs for the next 10 or 15 minutes right there on the sidewalk in Munich.”
Bailey said he has attended several presidential inaugurations, parades and balls, and been at several promotion ceremonies for U.S. generals at the Pentagon.
He said the best rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” he ever heard was at the entryway of a hotel in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
“A musician, a trumpeter, was playing music for tips and asked me what I wanted to hear. I said, ‘how about my national anthem?’ He grinned and said, ‘I can do that,’” Bailey said. “I stopped dead in my tracks and faced him, and stood tall, put my hand over my heart, and listened.”
Bailey said he was irritated as a fellow traveler walked by, ignoring the song and calling him “sappy.”
“I muttered back, ‘a little sappiness will do you some good,’” Bailey said. “We should never get comfortable with being proud of our country, our history, our honor, and our flag.”
He finished by asking how many had heard all four verses from “The Star Spangled Banner” during the last decade – or ever.
“Remember, it was written as a poem before we put music to it,” he said. “No, I’m not going to sing it – thank goodness.”
But Bailey did read all four verses, surrounded by several hundred large American flags blowing in the wind behind him.
“I encourage you to enjoy this display of flags, and I challenge you to hold others accountable to the belief that the flag of the United States of America is worthy of our respect, always,” Bailey said.
Flags for Heroes will remain through Memorial Day, Monday May 28, at the Worcester County Veteran’s Memorial in Ocean Pines.
The public is invited to walk among the display and read the names of veterans identified by a medallion hung around each flag.