Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

Mike Bell, a retired sailor who served on four different U.S. Navy ships for 14 six- to nine-month deployments, considers himself very lucky.

“I didn’t personally know anybody in the service that was killed during service,” Bell said, despite having served in Operation Desert Storm and the Iraq War.

But Memorial Day, coming up next Monday, May 27, is always a special time for him.

And not just because he’s been in charge of the Orange County Veterans observance for a handful of years.

This year’s Sixteenth Annual Tribute will take place at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 26 at the Orange First Church of the Nazarene, 3810 MLK Drive.

“It’s a time for us to sit back and think about those who’ve given their lives for us,” Bell said. “It’s a big deal that should be recognized more often.”

Memorial Day has been observed since the end of the Civil War and May 30 was chosen as the official day in 1868. Congress in 1968 established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend but it didn’t become an official federal holiday until 1971.

Orange County Veterans have been holding their formal observance at the Heritage Veterans Memorial Plaza since it was built.

The magnificent plaza, highlighted by the life-size bronze statue “Tears From A Grateful Heart” at the Orange First Church, sees as many as 300 veterans and family members on a good year.

“I know there are several people who come every year for whom Memorial Day has special meaning,” Bell said. “There’s one gentleman, a friend of his died in Iraq right next to him. His [friend’s] name is on the memorial. We have several members of our church, at least five, who have family members who were killed in action.”

Because rain has caused several cancellations in recent years, Bell says this year’s ceremonies will be held indoors.

Along with the Southeast Texas Color Guard and patriotic music by the Community Band of Southeast Texas, the 45-minute program will include a keynote speech before wrapping up with free hot dogs and apple pie.

The keynote speaker is Col. Thomas J. Curtis, USAF Ret, the author of “Under the Cover of Light,” which tells how his Christian faith allowed him to survive time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  

“I’ve been running this for five years and the main thing I have to do each year is find the guest speaker,” said Bell, who grew up in the Dallas suburb of Irving.

“I saw book that was out, “Under the Cover of Light” about a Vietnam veteran that had been a prisoner of war, and a couple of weeks later, we had an interim pastor who said he had a friend who was a Vietnam POW.

“It was the same guy [Curtis].

“A week later, some of our church members went to a men’s retreat. Col. Curtis was one of the guest speakers. It seems like every year, it works out like that.”