Former Florida Rep. Fred Costello pushed the podium forward before beginning his speech on Monday, May 30, at Rockefeller Gardens, standing beneath the covered amphitheater that has bore his name since 2019. He looked out over the crowd that had gathered on the lawn for the city's annual Memorial Day Remembrance Service.
"Glory, glory, hallelujah," he said, and mentioned how honored he felt to be there.
Costello, a former Ormond Beach mayor and retired dentist, served as a captain in the U.S. Air Force from 1974 to 1977. A member of the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter 1048 and the American Legion, he centered his speech around the sacrifice those serving in the armed forces have given, and are prepared to give.
"All veterans wrote a blank check to defend our American heritage of self-government to protect the enduring calling of individual liberty and freedom, so the USA can continue to be the beacon of freedom and individual opportunity throughout the world," Costello said. "America is more than a country. It is a dream that lives within each one of us."
Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor the veterans who died during service, he continued. It is not a celebration, but a time for personal reflection.
He invited two local veterans to speak during the service as well: Vietnam veterans Jim Drake and Bob Adkins.
Drake, who served in Vietnam from 1968-1969. He's one of the lucky ones who came back, he said. His best friend, Donald E. "Rusty" Sizemore did not. The two had gone to the same high school. Drake joined the Navy; Sizemore wanted to be a Marine.
"I honor him every Memorial Day and every Veterans Day," Drake said. "He's buried in Holly Hill at the Oak Crest Cemetery."
Adkins said that for him, every day is Memorial Day.
"We should never ever let our fallen be forgotten," said Adkins, who is the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1048. "Every day, they should be remembered. That is what this day is about."
As the veteran recovery officer for the Missing in America project — an initiative that aims to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of U.S. veterans and their immediate loved ones in national cemeteries across the country — Adkins asked for help from the community to continue to give veterans a proper military burial. The last call to honor he and and a small group of individuals completed saw the burial of 24 veterans and veterans wives. The local project chapter paid for it all.
"It is something that is so great and dear to my heart — knowing that there are veterans sitting in cans on shelves in this state of Florida and funerals homes, of veterans, veterans' wives — that are waiting for someone like me to come and get them and bury them in a national cemetery," Adkins said. "That's my project for the rest of my life, and I need help."
The ceremony also featured the Daytona Beach Concert Band, the laying of the ceremonial wreaths and tolling of the eight bells, which honors a sailor's end of watch.
Memorial Day is a difficult day for many, Costello said.
"There are those who mourn family members, whose selfless service led them to be laid in ground hallowed by the blood that they spilled," Costello said. "There is the living warrior who sheds tears that are seen and unseen for the brother or sister that put on a uniform with them, but never returned to take it off again. For these and many more, Memorial Day carries with it a weight that few can comprehend."