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Island turns out to honor fallen veterans

In a moment of levity, Mike McClung, commander of the Major Megan McClung Marine Corps League of Whidbey Island, hands the microphone to Anastasia Leese, 6, who looks a bit skeptical. In back from the left are the main speaker Marine Col. Brad Close, Chaplain Darrell Wenzek, and Senior Poppy Girl Krista Drechsel. Anastasia went to deliver a fine speech on why she’s proud to be the 2013 Poppy Girl.  - Jim Larsen / The Record
In a moment of levity, Mike McClung, commander of the Major Megan McClung Marine Corps League of Whidbey Island, hands the microphone to Anastasia Leese, 6, who looks a bit skeptical. In back from the left are the main speaker Marine Col. Brad Close, Chaplain Darrell Wenzek, and Senior Poppy Girl Krista Drechsel. Anastasia went to deliver a fine speech on why she’s proud to be the 2013 Poppy Girl.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / The Record

One of the largest crowds in years swarmed to pay homage to America’s fallen war heroes with a ceremony at Bayview Cemetery on Memorial Day.

Cars lined the fence outside the cemetery and people kept coming as the 11 a.m. starting time neared. Maple Glen retirement center in Freeland sent a van load of folks, including Tudy Miller who was lowered to the ground on a lift.

By the time of the opening prayer, at least 200 people were present, from the sponsoring American Legion Post 141 and its Legion Riders and Auxiliary, to the Maj. Megan McClung Marine Corps League of Whidbey Island, to veterans of the military services and their families, to those who had lost relatives in war, and to regular members of the public who wanted to pay their respects.

“My grandfather was a POW in World War II,” said Amber Ek, explaining her presence as she held her young son Burl who was waving an American flag.

Mike McClung, commander of the Marine Corps League that bears his daughter’s name (she was killed in Iraq in 2006), presided, telling the crowd this is the sixth year he’s been involved, and the sixth year it’s rained. He listed friends killed in several wars, the loss of his daughter to an explosive device, and urged those attending to “look among the graves; unless we remember those who have fallen we will be ill-served in the future.” Dozens of the graves had flags flying from them, showing how many South Whidbey residents served their country.

Legion Poppy Girl Anastasia Leese, 6, proudly read a statement, explaining why, “I am honored to be a Poppy Girl,” while Senior Poppy Girl Krista Drechsel recited the poem, “In Flanders Field.”

Special speaker Col. Brad Close, commander of MATSG 53 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, said his command will soon be moving to the East Coast, leaving NAS Whidbey without a Marine presence for the first time in years. After a brief warning about cutting too much from the military budget, he paid tribute to all who have fallen during America’s wars. “It’s a staggering loss,” he said, mentioning those laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery as well as Bayview Cemetery. “The graves go on forever, and the flags represent the true cost of freedom.”

Others are prepared to make sacrifices, Close said. “The military today is ready and prepared to do what is necessary to preserve our freedom.”

Herb Weissblum, Marine Corps League member from Clinton, ended the ceremony with a poem he wrote for the occasion and in honor of the late Col. Megan McClung.

“Heroes taken from us while defending the America Way,” he said in part. “Gallantly battled evil forces.”

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