Firefighter honored for helping create military and first responders memorial

County Police Officer Cpl. Matt Sanchez (left) gives Michael Vaccarino (center) an Anne Arundel County K-9 Unit Challenge Coin during Riviera Beach Appreciation Day. Larry Drymon (right) has been helping with appreciation day honoring military and first responders for two years.
County Police Officer Cpl. Matt Sanchez (left) gives Michael Vaccarino (center) an Anne Arundel County K-9 Unit Challenge Coin during Riviera Beach Appreciation Day. Larry Drymon (right) has been helping with appreciation day honoring military and first responders for two years. (Atalie Payne / Correspondent)

Michael Vaccarino was recently recognized for helping establish a local event and memorial honoring the military and first responders.

The volunteer firefighter was honored during the fifth annual Riviera Beach Appreciation Day Sept. 22 at Riviera Beach's community park, Following a parade, attendees gathered around the memorial to watch a special ceremony incorporating local military factions and first responders.


Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot honored Vaccarino's efforts by bestowing him a special comptroller coin awarded to individuals who are making a positive difference in their communities. County Executive Steve Schuh also bequeathed a token of his gratitude to Vaccarino, an official citation from his office.

Vaccarino said he doesn't believe he deserves the recognition received during the event.


"(Being honored) feels good but I don't want the recognition, I want other people to get the recognition," he said.

Several years ago, Vaccarino noticed the flag pole at the community park in Riviera Beach, 131 Meadow Road, had fallen into disrepair. After mentioning this to a neighbor, the idea morphed into not only fixing the flag pole, but creating a memorial for people in uniform.

With support from the community, "we made it happen," Vaccarino said.

The Riviera Beach Memorial Project, managed by Vaccarino and his wife Erin, was established to raise money for the planned monument.

Vaccarino sketched a detailed design for the monument and the surrounding area. He planned to erect a dark grey monument with inlayed tokens representing military branches and first responders. The one-of-a-kind monument cost nearly $10,000. Fundraisers were held to support the memorial's creation.

A brick memorial walkway was built leading to where the monument would later be installed. Individuals or families purchased blank bricks for $100 each. The bricks were engraved with messages or names of loved ones; the engraved bricks honor police, military, firefighters and first responders.

The monument was purchased and installed in 2014. Brick sales now fund the memorial's expansion and maintenance. Memorial bricks are still available for purchase.

Riviera Beach Appreciation Day was established five years ago as a celebration to honor local men and women in uniform.

The event begins with a parade around the community. This year, participants included local fire departments, motorcycle groups, ATV's, Pasadena Jeepers, Fort Meade, Department of Natural Resources boat, and Anne Arundel County police officers.

A variety of entities including Northeast High School's MJROTC, Coast Guard, Anne Arundel County Police, Riviera Beach VFC, and Maryland Natural Resource Police attended this year's event.

A pivotal moment in this year's ceremony was when the American flag flying above the memorial was ceremoniously replaced with a new flag. The removed flag was then presented to Riviera Beach community member Larry Drymon, a Vietnam veteran.

Drymon was shocked by the gesture. He began volunteering with the Riviera Beach Memorial Project roughly two years ago. He has helped the project by purchasing five engraved bricks on the walkway to honor loved ones who have served in the military.


His main contribution is mailing the memorial's "community" flag to different locations around the country to gain provenance

The flag has amassed a large collection of official certificates documenting each location where it has flown including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Alamo, Mount Rushmore, and the Vietnam Memorial.

Drymon is hoping to continue this tradition.

The flag is not flown on the memorial's pole, but kept in a safe place along with the framed certificates. It was displayed, along with its collection of certificates, at this year's event.

Following the ceremony, Anne Arundel County Police Officer Cpl. Matt Sanchez took Vaccarino aside to present him with a third memento, a newly minted Anne Arundel County K-9 Unit Challenge Coin.

Noting the coin is rare, Sanchez said he wanted to give one to Vaccarino to thank him for a kind gesture.

When Vaccarino heard about the premature death of Sanchez's K-9 partner Bodi in 2016, he thought, "I have to do something." He used funds from the memorial project to purchase a brick commemorating Bodi.

After the brick was laid, Vaccarino invited Sanchez to the memorial.

Vendors sought

The Women of the NALC of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 8615 Fort Smallwood Road, seek crafters and vendors for their annual Craft Fair, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 13. The cost to rent a space is $15 without table or $20 with a table. Deadline for registration is Oct. 3.

For reservations or more information call the church at 410-255-4141. Deadline for registration is Oct. 3.

Bull and oyster roast

Community UMC, 8680 Fort Smallwood Road, hosts an all-you-can-eat pit beef and oyster dinner 3-6 p.m. Oct. 13.

Admission is $25 for adults or $10 for children under 12 years old. A $2 discount will be given on advance tickets. For details, call 410-255-1506.

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