I live in North Central Florida. We don’t have beaches, but we have plenty of moss-covered oak trees and horse farms. In fact, Beautiful Marion County’s motto is Horse Capital of the World. We breed and grow great thoroughbred race horses here. Another thing we in Marion County are proud of is our veterans.
The Ocala/Marion County Veterans Memorial Park opened in 1997. It is a lovely park where folks like to have a picnic lunch on nice days, which we have a lot of here. The park is a lasting memorial to veterans of all wars, with more than 5,000 personalized bricks set into pedestals, 200 benches, and 100 plaques.
The first time I visited the park was January 25, 2014, when the 384th Bomb Group’s wing panel came to Ocala. Two 384th Bomb Group veterans, pilot John DeFrancesco and armorer Paul Bureau, added their signatures in a ceremony near the park’s pavilion. John’s signature was the wing panel’s eighty-sixth and Paul’s was number eighty-seven.
Like many military parks, the park hosts a Memorial Day celebration every year. But the Ocala/Marion County Veterans Park goes a step further. They host a Memorial Ceremony every quarter to honor those Marion County veterans who have died in the previous three months.
Saturday, October 1, 2016, I attended the ceremony to honor Paul Bureau. Paul was an armorer in the US Army Air Forces, 8th Air Force, 384th Bomb Group, the same group my dad served with in Grafton Underwood, England. Paul’s was among the names read during the ceremony’s “Roll Call of Honored Deceased.” Paul died on August 9 this year.
The park had recently acquired a cannon and chose to use it in the memorial ceremony. The ceremony began with the firing of the cannon. Almost as startling as the tremendous sound of the cannon fire was the ring of smoke that ascended to the heavens as though carrying away the souls of the veterans toward their final mission.
The ceremony continued with the invocation and a youth group called the “Young Marines” posted the colors. Everyone joined in the pledge of allegiance to the flag and sang the national anthem. The roll call began and a bell was rung after the reading of each name. Taps were played. A man named John Earl dressed in a kilt played the bagpipes. The Ocala Police Department Honor Guard performed a twenty-one gun salute.
The ceremony concluded with the benediction and a second firing of the cannon. I knew what was coming, but I still jumped at the tremendous boom. This time, though, no smoke ring accompanied the boom. Only the sad realization that many of our country’s finest defenders are no longer with us.
Note: Please visit the home page of the 384th Bomb Group’s website or the Veterans Signing Project page of the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery for more information about the 384th Bomb Group Veterans Signing Project and photos of past signers. Volunteers are still touring the country with the wing panel collecting signatures of 384th Bomb Group Veterans.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016