OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Each evening, from Memorial Day until Veterans Day, a small group of citizens from Old Orchard Beach, a town known more for its honky-tonk reputation and the hordes of tourists who stream south each summer to spend a week or two by the shore, hold a quiet flag raising ceremony to honor individuals who served as a member of the U.S. military.
People are nominated by relatives, or in some cases, the committee responsible for the event learns of an individual who served and has since died. The military personnel includes both enlisted and officers alike, men and women, and those who served at any time in the nation’s history.
This past Sunday (June 4), a friend asked me to attend the ceremony as his sister-in-law would be honored. Sharon Warriner, the woman being honored died this past year, but she served in the U.S. Army from 1962-1968. She worked primarily in the communications office and was last stationed in West Germany. She was honorably discharged in 1968 when she married another soldier, Clyde Lee Warriner.
But as moving and memorable as the ceremony was, that was not the lesson for me. The image and ideas that resonate with me come from the basketball players who occupied the municipal courts next to the park. As people were gathering for the ceremony and those in charge were testing some of the audio equipment, I watched the players. Some of the players looked as if they were no more than 14 or 15 years old and some were clearly going to go home to their girlfriends or wives. The language was often salty and typical for pickup games.
Then, as the ceremony began, the emcee of the event announced that the national anthem would be played and the speakers surrounding the large white flagpole began emitting a classic rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I looked again toward the courts and the first thing I noticed was that the basketballs had stopped bouncing. The steady beat of players running and dribbling was gone.
Without a discernible word to one another, the players stopped moving and each placed a hand over their hearts. They stood where they were and faced the flag, their flag. One or two of the players even seemed to be mouthing the words as the music played on. Together, they made a silent statement until the last note was heard. Then, still, without a word to one another, they picked up the balls and continued the game. It was as if the momentary break had not even occurred. But it had, and it wasn’t lost on me.
If you are interested in learning more about the group that holds the flag raising ceremony, please follow them on Facebook.