In a moving tribute to heroism and hospitality, St. George Island welcomed scores of residents and visitors alike to share Monday in the dedication of a new flagpole at the lighthouse.
Twenty-one volleys from miniature cannons opened the Memorial Day ceremony, overseen by Jim Kemp, with the St. George Lighthouse Association.
Musical selections from the Franklin County High School Band, directed by Karl Lester, offered stirring and at times somber accompaniment, as the gathering commemorated the sacrifice of thousands of American lives, given as the ultimate contribution to the nation’s freedom and endurance.
Dennis Barnell, a Navy veteran who was among the early, dedicated proponents of rebuilding the lighthouse after it was shattered into pieces by Hurricane Dennis, introduced the 21-cannon salute. Later, he joined fellow Navy vet Fred Stanley, Marine Joe Garrity and John Ficklen III in setting off the guns.
Navy veteran Fred Lambert Sr. raised the flag from where it had stood at half-mast since sunrise. He did so in honor of a central theme of the occasion, the dedication of this maritime flagpole donated by his late son, Jimmy Lambert, who passed away in May 2013 after a battle with colon cancer
An avid sailor, boater and fisherman, Lambert and his wife Rhonda had a house on the island for nearly four decades. Friends and family wanted to donate to honor his memory in Lighthouse Park, and a maritime flagpole was chosen. Jimmy’s widow was on hand to unveil the plaque at the base of the pole.
“He was a patriotic American who loved his country and his flag,” said Lambert’s friend Alex Hinson. “Let this be a symbol of hospitality and friendship.”
He said his friend always had “a ready smile and a ready hug. You would not meet a nicer person; you could not have a better friend.”
Hinson said that when the Lamberts would arrive at the island, they would put out the flag at their Plantation home, which said to all “We are here, you are welcome, come see us.”
Hinson said he hoped the same is now being said to visitors to the island as they arrive at the lighthouse, its centerpiece. “This is a fitting tribute,” he said.
The Lamberts’ niece and nephew, Josh and Karina Hollingsworth, sang the National Anthem, followed by an invocation from Rev. Themo Patriotis, of the St. George Island United Methodist Church.
“The men and women we honor today have shown great love, not just for friends but for strangers,” he said. “For those they never met. We’re praying for those who are alive today. They’re giving their lives right now so that we may pray.”
County Commissioner Pinki Jackel followed with the keynote remarks. “We are reminded as those solemn shots rang out of those we have known and loved, those that we have admired and respected, and those that we will never forget making the ultimate sacrifice one can make for the preservation of our freedom.”
Jackel, whose district includes the entire island, outlined a brief history of Memorial Day, and of the more than one million lives lost on the battlefield in US wars. “Our nation is currently at war, and today we should take the time to say a prayer for our active troops and their families and to thank a veteran for their service to our country and for our freedom.”
The commissioner told of her father-in-law, a decorated World War II veteran, who received two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star during his service in Europe. She told of his book “The Lucky Infantryman,” which got its name because “he was lucky to have served and lucky to call himself a veteran.”
Jackel closed with a thank-you to all who have labored long hours to create and expand a rebuilt lighthouse, and to the Lambert family, and for everyone’s “wonderful display of the importance of family and love for each other and your community.”
Retired Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mark Vail read the poem “My Name is Old Glory,” and the afternoon closed with more selections by the high school band.