Every May for the past 25 years, the Key Peninsula Veterans have held an Aisle of Honor at Vaughn cemetery.
This year’s event will take place May 24 at 1 p.m.
It’s the largest Aisle of Honor ceremony west of the Mississippi, according to Frank Grubaugh, president of the local veterans group.
“The purpose of the Aisle of Honor is to honor all who have served their country — not just the fallen,” Grubaugh said.
Volunteers from the organization put out flags in the cemetery — one for each person who is somehow tied to a local Key Peninsula family.
“Last year we put up 336 full-size flags,” Grubaugh said. “Each flag goes on a specific pole with a name on it.”
That’s up from 54 flags at the first ceremony in 1990.
The ceremony has grown since then and now includes a full service with a guest speaker, two color guards, singers and a bagpiper.
This year’s guest speaker is retired Brig. Gen. Stan Fleming, Grubaugh said.
“We also have a military color guard and a Boy Scouts color guard. And the Key Peninsula Singers will sing the national anthem,” he said.
The choral group also will sing the songs that signify each branch of the military, he said. “They’ll sing the Army song when we’re reading the Army names, the Navy song when we read the Navy names and so forth.
“When we recognize what others have sacrificed for our freedom, that also puts the honor on us, for recognizing them,” he said.
Typically about 400 people attend the ceremony. “We often have politicians there also, but we don’t announce them because we’re there to recognize the veterans,” he added.
The group would like to connect with more vets on the KP, “but we have a hard time finding them,” he said.
Everyone in the KP organization is a current or past veteran, including spouses and children more than 16 years old. “But not all of us stayed in the service long enough to retire. Some, like me, were just in four years,” he said.
Two years ago the group installed an American flag at Volunteer Park and now they’re raising money to purchase a flag for Gateway Park by selling engraved bricks for $45 each.
It will take a lot of bricks to buy a proper flag. “People don’t realize that a commercial flag pole costs $12,500 and that’s just for the materials, not the labor,” Grubaugh said.
The vets will be selling bricks at the KP Livable Community Fair on May 9, and at several other events during the summer.
“It’s a great way to honor a special member of your family, your dog, your business or even yourself — whatever you want to be permanently remembered,” he said.
The first order will be placed when the group sells 100 bricks “because with 100 bricks it’s free shipping,” Grubaugh said with a smile. “Otherwise you can just imagine how much it would cost to ship 100 bricks.”
KP Veterans is also looking for more volunteers to help at the Aisle of Honor.
The Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts always show up to help. “We just couldn’t do this without them,” Grubaugh said.
He’d welcome help from other community volunteers as well.
“I can’t describe what it feels like when you stand in that field and you see all those flags flying. The emotions just run the gamut,” he said.
Grubaugh’s wife, Linda, agreed. “The Aisle of Honor just gives me goose bumps to see all those flags,” she said. “It’s a very special feeling.”
For information, visit keypeninsulaveterans.com.
Want to go?
The 25th annual Aisle of Honor, sponsored by Key Peninsula Veterans, will take place May 24 at Vaughn cemetery. Free shuttle service will be provided from Vaughn Elementary School at noon. The event is free and open to the public and is handicapped accessible.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS