When Riviera Beach residents heard the blare of sirens of the morning of September 14, they had every reason to be confused. The scheduled Riviera Beach Memorial Appreciation Day parade had not yet started. The firetrucks had not yet made their way down Arundel Road.
First responders were being called to help the victim of a possible drowning. The woman was OK, but the incident underscored the purpose of the day’s event: celebrating the importance of first responders and military members who serve selflessly.
Event organizer Michael Vaccarino said the appreciation day, which started five years ago, has sparked more awareness about the people who keep Pasadena neighborhoods safe.
“It’s grown, not necessarily in size, but in the way that more local people are getting reached,” Vaccarino said of the event. “This year, we were lucky that we have a state police officer who lives in the neighborhood who’s coming here. The crossing guard table, one of the ladies lives in our neighborhood.”
The event officially got underway as the Northeast Marine Corps Junior ROTC program marched across a field. The Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company was not far behind, hoisting an American flag high in the air for everyone to see.
After the singing of the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer, Delegate Nic Kipke gave opening remarks. Lieutenant Fred Crosse, representing the Anne Arundel County Eastern District Police Station, talked about the great community members who make the area safer. Then Kipke welcomed Charlie Harrison to the podium. Harrison suffered a heart attack on February 5, 2019. Four people came to his rescue, administering CPR until paramedics arrived. One of those good civilians, Andy Turner, watched from the crowd as Harrison spoke.
“If it wasn’t for four people that took the time to see someone that was distressed like I was, to come over and render assistance to me,” Harrison said. “I will always be thankful and grateful for their help. How can you really say something to somebody that saved your life, other than thank you?”
The ceremony closed with Kipke handing a memorial brick to Jacob Wilson, who lost his sister, 2008 Northeast High graduate Brittany Michelle Plumer, in May 2018 when she was in a fatal car accident on the Eastern Shore. The Riviera Beach memorial site has a black headstone and a pathway full of bricks to honor those who served.
About 10 minutes after the speeches ended and the crowd shifted to the food line, Harrison spotted the guest he had been looking for all along. Nick Curran, the off-duty lieutenant for the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company who gave CPR to Harrison in February, strode across the field. The men shook hands, and Harrison presented Curran with an American flag and a card.
“How do you repay someone who saved your life? Not with this,” Harrison joked as he handed Curran the card.
It was an emotional moment in a ceremony full of them. Steven Seay became rheumy-eyed when speaking about his father, a Marine who died in 2002. Seay brings his Jeep to various events honoring military members and first responders. On the back, the Jeep is bedecked with teddy bears to represent kids killed due to war and terrorist acts, a helmet to represent the “regular man who went off to war and never came back,” and a “remember” sign to honor members of the military and first responders.
“This is not about me,” Seay said. “It’s about the people who have served and sacrificed. It’s to make people stop and remember them.”
Several veterans were also in attendance. Paul Woods served in the Navy from 1961 to 1964. He lauded his service for giving him the opportunity to explore the world. Riviera Beach Memorial Appreciation Day was another reminder of that experience.
“Our daughter lives here and we wanted to come out and enjoy all the festivities and relive some of the history,” said Woods, who has a granddaughter in the Northeast Marine Corps Junior ROTC program.
The day will certainly stick with Harrison and with Vaccarino, who helped bring Harrison and Curran to the ceremony to meet.
“Some people, they see somebody that’s in trouble and don’t take the time to do anything about it,” Harrison said, “but there are still good people out there that will stop and give a helping hand when somebody needs it.”