More than a long weekend

RiverFest pays homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the country

By Don Coble don@opcfla.com
Posted 6/2/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – There was purpose in U.S. Congresswoman Kat Cammack’s (R-Fla.) voice when she addressed hundreds of residents, veterans and families of fallen soldiers Monday at the annual …

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More than a long weekend

RiverFest pays homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the country

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – There was purpose in U.S. Congresswoman Kat Cammack’s (R-Fla.) voice when she addressed hundreds of residents, veterans and families of fallen soldiers Monday at the annual RiverFest at Spring Park.

There was reverence in her words as she spoke of the sacrifices made by America’s finest and their families. This wasn’t a time to make political points. At the same time, she refused to let others be so flippant about the solemn importance of the day a country honors the men and women who died in service of the country.

“Thank you to every man and woman who gave their life to our nation in defense of our freedom so that we could have this so-called long weekend,” she said, which Army vehicles and the St. Johns River serving as a backdrop. “Long are the families who’ve been at the dinner table without their loved ones. Long is the memory that friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow servicemen and women have in remembering those we have lost. I want to say thank you to the families who hugged their loved ones goodbye, knowing they may never make it home.”

Cammack didn’t mention names, but everyone at the park knew exactly who she was talking about. And to the person, they agreed.

Vice President Kamala Harris sent out a tweet ahead of the somber holiday telling everyone to “enjoy the long weekend.” There was no mention of Memorial Day. No mention of the millions who’ve fought and died in defense of the country. There didn’t appear to be a sense of gratitude.

RiverFest has blossomed into one of the county’s biggest events. A year removed from the pandemic, thousands descended onto the picturesque park to enjoy a day of sun, fun, food, games, music and, most important, a reflection of the sacrifices by so many to make such an event possible.

Cammack was one of many dignitaries who opened the day-long festival. Others included members of the Green Cove Springs City Council, members of the Clay County Board of Commissioners and administration and soldiers.

But the guest of honor were veterans from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Space Force and Merchant Marines who were invited to tell the crowd about their service.

One man told a story of his father being gassed to death in World War I. He went on to fight in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Others tearfully talked of watching their buddies die in combat in the Middle East, while others implored the nation to be resolute in finding all those still listed as missing in action. One Army man simply yelled: “Go Army! Beat Navy!”

Richard Knoff said because of events like RiverFest and TAPS Monument, Green Cove Springs has become a special place for military families.

“Green Cove Springs is the only community I have seen providing recognition for every veteran that attends each year,” he said.

Cammack mentioned Clay High graduate Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ian D. Manuel who died Jan. 8, 2004, when his 571st Medical Company UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a medevac mission in Fallujah, Iraq.

“He was a proud graduate of Clay High School and the son of Brice Manuel, who retired from the Navy,” she said. “His teachers remembered him fondly as a hard-working student and a gentle soul. His sacrifice, for our nation, we remember his spirit today.

“This is just one of many stories of hometown heroes.”

Across the county, others were paying their respects. Local VFWs, AMVETS and Vietnam Veterans of America posts were honoring their fallen brothers and sisters. Cub Scout Pack 577 from Green Cove Springs and Troop 25 from Orange Park cleaned the graves and place flags of soldiers at Peoria Cemetery in Orange Park.

While other communities still were conducting virtual remembrances, Green Cove Springs opened its doors to all.

The night ended with a concert by the Curt Towne Band and the traditional fireworks show over the river.

The reason for “the long weekend,” however, never ends.

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