All military operations require advance planning. Decisions, large and small, need to be made. Time often is of the essence. People need to know what to do and when and where to do it.
Such also is the case with preparations for the various Memorial Day observances taking place May 27 around the city of Dover. While they may not have the gravitas of the D-Day Normandy invasion or even a training exercise out at Dover Air Force Base, the ceremonies honoring the nation's war dead carry a profound meaning to those who plan and carry out each annual observance.
American Legion and DelVets
At 11 a.m., just about the same time Chapter 850's ceremony is concluding, a much older Memorial Day observance is beginning a little more than a mile away.
Members of the American Legion Walter L. Fox Post No. 2 and the Delaware Veterans Post No. 2, Dover, have held joint Memorial Day observances at the Triangle flagpole in downtown Dover for more than a half-century.
Jeff Crouser, adjutant for the Fox Post, said the groups take turns hosting the event. In 2013, it is the Legionnaires' turn.
Unlike Chapter 850's event, the downtown ceremony requires a parade permit since Dover police must block off Kings Highway and control traffic during the ceremony, Crouser said. Volunteers also set out the chairs and arrange the wreaths donated by local veterans and civic organizations.
All that planning helps ensure there are no glitches during the ceremony, Crouser said.
Most of the time things go well, although there almost was an embarrassing faux pas several years ago when someone forgot to bring the special key that unlocks the flagpole lanyard.
Each ceremony concludes with the raising of the American flag from the half-staff position up to full staff. That almost didn't happen, Crouser said.
"Fortunately, we got hold of the city manager and he sent someone over with the key," he said.
Crouser also stressed the ceremony will take place outside, regardless of the weather.
"Let's face it, when these guys and gals went off to war, it was rain or shine," he said. "They deserve the honor. All I can say is, if it's raining, bring an umbrella."
For many, the emotional highpoint of the ceremony is the reading of names of veterans who have passed away since the prior Memorial Day. Each year, Crouser contacts local funeral homes for listings of deceased veterans; most provide the information in time for the ceremony, he said.
This Last Roll Call is an important part of the day, Crouser added.
"More than once, I've read out the names of friends," he said. "It is a little difficult sometimes, but we're doing them an honor and a service, perhaps their last one.
Page 2 of 3 - "In a lot of cases, veterans do not receive the proper recognition when they're here, so it's the least we can do to honor them on Memorial Day."
Vietnam Veterans of America
Members of the Kent County Chapter 850, Vietnam Veterans of America, will hold their Memorial Day ceremonies at the county's Veterans Memorial Park. The 2013 observance also will honor the county's Korean War veterans on the 60th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that ended combat operations in that country.
The guest speaker will be Korean War veteran retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Richardson of Smyrna. As in the past few years, Lori Christiansen will sing the National Anthem and "Taps" will be performed by 14-year-old Brooke Tucker of Frederica.
As usual, the ceremony will be open to all members of the public.
"This year, we wanted to dedicate our ceremony to our Korean War brothers," said Paul Davis, Kent VVA vice president. "They don't get much recognition, and we felt it was appropriate to dedicate our service to them."
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 2009 on land donated by Kent County Levy Court, and is situated just behind the Levy Court building. Chapter 850 has about 200 active members, along with approximately 35 associate members.
Work on each Memorial Day ceremony starts about six weeks out with emails being sent to members as a reminder and a request to help, if possible, said Dave Skocik, a Chapter 850 member who also is president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition. He also sends out notifications to print and broadcast media.
The chapter coordinates the event with Kent County Levy Court officials, who arrange for a tent, if needed, or the use of the Levy Court chambers if the weather turns bad.
"They do a lot of things for us," Skocik said. "They even move all the county vehicles, which would be parked around Levy Court because it's a holiday, and put them at the Blue Hen Mall so we'll have more parking."
Over the years, parking has been a concern as more people turn out for the ceremony, which usually lasts between 45 minutes and an hour. The group estimates between 150 and 200 people come out each year.
Skocik, who acts as emcee during the event, said people often come up afterward and thank him.
"I tell them I'm just a script reader," he said. "This is really a team effort, a real labor of love."
Since the end of the war in 1973, Skocik has seen a real change in people's attitude about the war. During the 1960s soldiers often were the objects of scorn because the war had become highly unpopular with a number of influential groups. Military personnel would change out of their uniforms once they returned from combat to avoid being spat upon.
Page 3 of 3 - Today Americans accept that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who served in Southeast Asia were doing the jobs they'd been ordered to do, Skocik said, and they realize the mistreatment of 40 years ago was unwarranted. Many seem to be going out of their way to make things right.
And that's another reason Chapter 850 is so visible in Kent County, he said.
"We need to show people who we are," Skocik said. "Now, we have people telling us, 'Welcome home.'"