Haines City Honors Local Veterans With Memorial Day Ceremony
by James Coulter
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated May 31 as Memorial Day, a time when Americans would recognize the sacrifices made by armed service members. More than ten years later, Jake Polumbo, Jr., Retired Major General U.S. Air Force, joined the U.S. Air Force. Through his service, he learned to honor the servicemen and women who passed before him.
“I realized every day that I was on duty that I was standing next to people to my left and my right who would not come home, and that is something we have to remember,” Polumbo said. “They are protecting our values and freedoms around the world, every day, and every night, we should never forget those young men and women who served.”
Polumbo himself had the distinction of being a decorated command pilot who, according to his profile on the Two Blue Aces website, “logged over three thousand flying hours in all models of the F-16 and holds the distinction as the first and only U.S. Air Force general officer to fly the U-2S in combat.”
Polumbo proudly served his country. He was willing to lay his life on the line to support and protect it. Though he managed to live to be honorably discharged and continue his life as a civilian, he still remembers the brave men and women who were not as fortunate. Their memory, he insists, must live on through all of us.
“Our casualties and our number of lost Americans keep coming down but that does not mean we ever stop remembering,” he said. “If we lose one American citizen in a war overseas, we remember them. We remember that person and we remember their families. Our military is stronger, we expect to win, but we are going to take loses.”
Pulumbo served as the main speaker during the Memorial Day Ceremony hosted in Haines City on Monday. Several dozen city residents and staff congregated in Railroad Park that morning to pay respects for fallen armed service men and women.
The ceremony opened with an invocation by Chris Gillian of Oak Hill Baptist Church. Ridge Community High School JROTC members offered the presentation of colors, and the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance were recited by local resident Jason Green.
Mayor Morris West offered several remarks relating his 22 years of service in law enforcement to the spirit of Memorial Day. Just as military personnel witnessed their colleagues pass away in service of their country, so, too, did he witness his colleagues in law enforcement pass away in service of their communities. Their memories and sacrifices deserved to be honored as well as those of armed service members, he said.
“Today is the day that we can remember our comrades as we went to combat. Some saw your combats beside you get blown away by enemy fire. Let us memorialize them,” he said. “I encourage each and every one of you all to go out, memorialize, and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Go out and memorialize.”
The ceremony concluded with the placing of the wreath by Ride Community High School JROTC, accompanied by a rendition of “Amazing Grace” performed by Benjamin Pugh and “Taps” performed by Kim Lenaway. Light refreshments were served in the lobby of the public library.