Master of Ceremonies Tom Piazze called for 60 seconds of silence for the victims of the Orlando shooting moments before the the 2016 Flag Day Celebration at Sarasota National Cemetery was set to begin Sunday.
The massacre of at least 50 innocents cast a shadow over this year’s event in the Patriot Plaza amphitheater, which featured, as always, The Pops Orchestra and its charismatic conductor, Robyn Bell and Gloria Musicae Singers under the direction of Joseph Holt.
The music lineup awarded those in attendance with a chest-swelling array of patriotic melodies to prepare them for Flag Day, which is Tuesday, June 14.
Included on this year’s music lineup was “Battle Hymn Of The Republic,” Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA,” “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin, “America The Beautiful” and the always hugely popular “Armed Forces Salute,” in which songs of the branches of service are played and people stand when their branch’s tune begins.
But as they waited for the performance to start — it was delayed a few minutes by sudden showers that slowed down parking — many of the roughly 2,800 in attendance were thinking of the shooting in Orlando, which authorities have called “an act of terror.”
Tom and Mary Kelly from Port Charlotte were attending the Flag Day celebration for the first time. Tom Kelly was in the U.S. Army for 27 years.
“It’s tragic that this kind of thing can happen in America and so close to home,” Mary Kelly said. “We always think it is someone else, somewhere else, but now it is here.”
When the Kellys drove into Sarasota National Cemetary Sunday they saw a disarming police presence.
“I saw big black SUVs with black windows,” Mary Kelly said. “Security. Which makes you realize it could happen here.”
Said Tom Kelly, “I just hope our government realizes who the enemy is. It’s not us.”
“I think they know what to do,” Tom Kelly added. “They are just not doing it.”
Tom Kelly said that the suspect in the Orlando, who reportedly had a connection with radical groups, should not have been able to get an assault rifle.
“A .22-caliber pistol is not an issue,” Tom Kelly said. “But an assault weapon is a different story.”
“There is no reason anybody should be able to have anything like that,” Mary Kelly said.
“You don’t hunt like that,” added Tom Kelly, who is originally from Iowa.
Tom Kelly said, “The sad part is that the FBI knew about this guy. He was on the terror watch list. They had interviewed him. They had talked to people at his work and he still performed this act.”
The Kellys said that they hoped the shooting does not turn people against Muslims which could lead to more innocents being harmed.
“I think they need to be truly careful about people who are on a terrorist list but not make it a racist attack on one segment of the population,” Mary Kelly said. “That just is not fair.”
I think they need to be truly careful about people who are on a terrorist list but not make it a racist attack on one segment of the population. That just is not fair.
Mary Kelly, a Flag Day Celebration attendee in Sarasota
Braden Woods’ residents Francis and Gayelene Royer, married 60 years, were first-timers at the celebration. Francis Royer, 82, served in the Korean War.
“We need to call it what it is and quit beating around the bush,” Francis Royer said. “It’s terrorism.”
“We need to go back over there, what else can we do,” Francis Royer added.
“And get a little more serious that it is here now,” Gayelene Royer added.
Kathy Smith of Sarasota attended with Troy Sullivan, her father, who is 98 and is a Pearl Harbor survivor from the U.S.S. St. Louis.
“We have never been to a flag ceremony and I think my dad will enjoy it,” Smith said before the event.
“It’s a shame that we can’t go out into the public without fear of someone deciding to shoot,” Smith said. “There are no words to describe that.”