By MADDY VITALE
Marine Lance Cpl. Rickey R. Arce joined the military just out of high school.
He fought the Taliban in Afghanistan during his deployment in 2009-2010.
Although that was a decade ago, the impact, the impression it left on the veteran from Philadelphia, and the memories of his fallen fellow Marines will stay with him forever, he told a packed Ocean City Tabernacle during the city’s Veterans Day ceremony.
“Every day is a challenge, but I tell you, yesterday I got the privilege to see some guys I served with down in Virginia. That is the kind of stuff that really helps me feel better,” Arce said in keynote remarks.
Arce told the audience that instances such as that one, is one of the reasons he fought for his country.
During the program, Ocean City Primary School students Tyler Swartz, Daisy Avila, Brittany Fraga and Samuel Patrinik took to the stage and thanked the veterans for their service and recited poetry honoring the members of the military.
Video courtesy of City of Ocean City and Just Right TV Productions
“Seeing the children come up here and recite poetry is really heartfelt,” Arce said. “That is kind of the purpose for why we do what we do. Why we kill the bad guys and why we defend the country in general, it’s for the kids and to protect society.”
He explained that when he returned to the United States from Afghanistan, life as a civilian was difficult and he took to drinking.
He is sober now and seeing a therapist to help him cope with his wartime memories and get better.
“Sometimes it is unbelievable the stuff we went through. You get back and you have a lot of things on your mind. You think a lot about the things you have accomplished and moving forward in civilian life,” Arce said.
He continued, “And now you have a whole different list. For me, a big part of my life now is working with my therapist and working through my days in Afghanistan and alleviate stress and realize I am here and not over there anymore.”
During the ceremony, Mayor Jay Gillian told the audience that it is so vital that children are taught about Veterans Day at school. He thanked the teachers and Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor for doing a fine job with the students.
He then spoke of the death of former U.S. Ambassador to Panama and 10-term Congressman Bill Hughes, a long-time Ocean City resident and political icon.
Gillian recalled Hughes’ political tenure and how he worked with the military when he served as ambassador.
“I hope you will remember Bill Hughes. He serves as a role model. We can serve our country in so many ways,” the mayor said.
Gillian also said how important it is to honor veterans, telling the crowded auditorium in the Tabernacle, “These events grow bigger and bigger each year.”
The program was emceed by Michael Hartman, the city’s special events coordinator.
During the program Ocean City High School students in the American Sign Language classes signed the National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance and “God Bless America.”
The Ocean City High School Choir and Ocean City High School Band performed, and high school student Julia Wilson sang “God Bless America.”
The presentation of the colors was done by the Marine Corps League 676 Dramis Detachment and the invocation was done by American Legion Post 524 Chaplain Russ Schleider. The benediction was performed by Ed Ferraro, chaplain of VFW Post 6650. The laying of the wreath was performed by American Legion Post Commander Bob Marzulli and VFW Post Commander Mike Morrissey.
Attendees also viewed a video of the laying of the wreath ceremony, done earlier in the day at Veterans Memorial Park.
For VFW Post 6650 Commander Morrissey, who introduced Arce as a man who honored his oath to protect America, Veterans Day is a day to remember all who served.
“It is a day to remember those of us who came home with wounds seen or unseen,” Morrissey said. “Veterans, we all took the same oath to protect our country and we have one distinct thing in common: We will forever be proud.”
Arce shared how he wears a bracelet in honor of his four fallen friends and fellow Marines.
It is one way he remembers the men whom he said had a profound impact on his life and mentored him.
“I know a bunch more, but those four guys, we were close, and it definitely had an impact on my life, and I’d like to remember them,” he noted.
Arce described his time in the Marines. “I was a gunner. I loved it. I loved my job. I loved the Marines to the left and the right of me. … There is so much of a story to tell. I am still proud of what I have done.”