On Monday, more than 200 islanders, young and old, gathered on the grounds of Vashon Cemetery to honor the nation’s fallen veterans on Memorial Day.
The cemetery seemed dressed up in late May finery for the occasion, with its rolling grounds splashed with the almost fluorescent colors of fully flowering rhododendrons and more muted but no less stunning greenery of graceful maple trees and majestic firs.
Vashon’s Scout Troupe 294, assisted by Cub Scout Pack 275, had made preparations for the ceremony on Saturday, fulfilling their yearly duty to place small American flags on the final resting places of the now 685 veterans who are buried there. And on Monday, the scouts returned, to participate in the color guard and presentation of the flags.
The ceremony took place against the backdrop of Vashon Cemetery’s War Memorial, which has stood for more than a century, commemorating those who have died in conflicts dating back to 1861.
After Eva Cain’s stirring rendition of the National Anthem, Mike Mattingly, commander of Vashon’s chapter of the American Legion, led the Pledge of Alliance and offered solemn words of gratitude to members of the military who had died in combat, as well as to their families.
Representatives of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Hero Quilts, Vashon Scouts, the Eagles, Masons, Rotary Club and the Sportsmen’s Club presented wreaths and made short remarks, and then came a short program by Vashon’s Judd Creek Gospel Singers.
Led by Marita Erickson, the choir led the crowd in singing “America, the Beautiful,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and gospel favorites that included “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Down to the River and Pray.”
The service also included an address by Vietnam veteran James Robinson, who quoted the inspiring words of President John F. Kennedy, Jr. — a decorated veteran of World War II — in his inaugural address in 1961:
“Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’ — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself …. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
The emotive strains of “Amazing Grace,” played by piper John Dally, and “Taps,” by trumpeter Barry Copper, concluded the service.