Story and photos by JEFFREY POWELL
According to Walton County Sheriff’s Posse member Chick Huettel, more than 115 citizens attended a sun-drenched Memorial Day observance at Gulf Cemetery in Santa Rosa Beach on Monday morning, May 28. The crowd was also recognized as the largest to ever gather at this location for what was once referred to as Decoration Day.
“What a great crowd,” said Gulf Cemetery Association President William Freeze. “We are here today to support our heroes. Heroes that make ceremonies like this possible.”
Although Memorial Day has been observed at Gulf Cemetery for many years, Monday’s gathering was also a day of firsts. In the past, a recording of the national anthem and “Taps” had been part of the ceremony. This year Callan Taft sang the anthem and a portion of “Proud to be an American.” South Walton High School band member James Mcdowell concluded the ceremony with a powerful and fitting rendition of “Taps.” Also a first was a fly-over by four T-6 Texan aircraft from Destin. They came over the cemetery twice, the second time in a missing man formation.
What was not new was the participation of World War II veteran Vernon Bishop. Bishop, a lifelong citizen of Santa Rosa Beach, has been attending Memorial Day services for many years and directed Monday’s service. He also looks after Point Washington and Thompson Cemetery veteran gravesites.
“Of the 96 veterans that we honor here today 50 were friends of mine, I guess they are still friends of mine,” Bishop said reflectively. “These veterans and the American flag mean so much to me. These soldiers served our country honorably, some of them during wartime. America is the greatest country in the world and it needs protecting. These folks protected our freedoms.”
After “Taps” was played each service member’s grave was decorated with a new American flag.