SEBASTIAN — By Noon Saturday, the parking lot of the former Eckerd Drugstore at US 1 and Roseland Road was beginning to fill with motorcycles. By half past there would be 150 or so, lined up and revving, ready to head south to Earl’s Hideaway.
The Ride-in would kick off the 7th Annual Earl’s Memorial Day Celebration, including the Patriot Guard Riders, the American Legion riders and a number of others.
Mary and Bernie Call have participated for several years. She was riding to honor her dad, a WWII veteran who served as a gunner on the Lexington, and her brother Johnny who was killed while serving in Vietnam.
Brida and George Rozas, had also ridden in from Micco.
“We are here to celebrate those who served for our freedom,” she said. George added, “My grandfather was a seaman at Pearl Harbor.”
Larry and Becky Smith had travelled from Sarasota.
“We want to show patriotism and honor the Vietnam vets,” he said.
Charles Smith was there from Cape Canaveral, for the first time, “to honor the troops.”
American Legion member Dave Wortmann would lead the Ride-in on his maroon Harley, with passenger, City Councilwoman Andrea Coy, US Army, MSG, Ret., in uniform.
Down at Earl’s, a huge crowd awaited the riders. Hundreds filled the inside bar and tables, and it was standing room only in the large outside bar and seating areas. Many of those not in uniform, wore black leather vests, emblazoned with patches, and a scattering of statement t-shirts: “Support Our Troops,” “Proud to Be An American,” “Vietnam – We Are Not Forgotten.”
Special seating had been set up in the shade near the stage for the dozen or so special guests – the WWII veterans.
On the front row sat Arnhold and Lilly Schwicheenberg. Arnhold had shipped out with the Navy at 19, and was a 20-year-old E-4 Seaman, serving aboard the destroyer USS Trever on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. His ship was spared.
“God didn’t want him yet and the Devil was scared of him,” Lilly said.
“Of the 130 men on that ship, only two of us are still alive,” 93-year-old Arnhold said. “I still lead the pledge at several area meetings.”
“Here they come,” someone yelled, and everyone looked up Indian River Drive. Headed by Wortmann’s Harley, Coy waving the Flag, the procession approached, headlights on, the ground beginning to vibrate.
There is nothing quite like the growl of a big, 4-stroke Harley, and multiplied by 150, the arrival was impressive.
Master of Ceremonies Col. Martin Zickert, USAF, Ret., quieted the crowd as a veterans Honor Guard presented the colors. The tribute continued with patriotic music, and, in a moving annual tradition, two special poems, “It Is A Soldier,” and “The Old Soldier” read by Coy.
The crowd joined in when she read the last line – “This Flag may fade, but the colors won’t run!”
There was a special recognition and a touching presentation for the WWII veterans, who stood proudly as they received Greatest Generation caps and medallions, followed by a wreath ceremony and a rifle volley salute. The ceremony concluded with a breathtaking display, as Air Sports Parachute Team divers jumped onto the little sand spit in the lagoon across from Earl’s, bearing a gigantic American flag.
For the rest of the weekend, the celebration at Earl’s would be less solemn, with the usual music, food and beer. But for a couple of hours on Saturday, area veterans were reminded that there are many Americans who have not forgotten them or their sacrifice in the name of freedom.