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Honoring the fallen: Many Memorial Day events around area

By CJ HADDAD - | May 27, 2021

CHUCK BALLARO A flag and a bouquet decorates the grave of a veteran at the Coral Ridge Cemetery during the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Veteran's Honor Garden on Monday.

Each year, Americans pay tribute to fallen military members in the form of Memorial Day — a day to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while fighting for their country.

In the veteran-rich community of Southwest Florida, residents have a myriad of opportunities over the holiday weekend to pay their respects and honor those that put it all on the line in the name of freedom, national security and independence.

Observed each year on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is how America has saluted those that have lost their life while serving in the U.S. Military since 1868.

Coral Ridge

Coral Ridge Funeral Home & Cemetery in Cape Coral will host its 40th Annual Memorial Day service at 10 a.m. on Monday in the Veterans Honor Garden located at 950 Chiquita Blvd. S. The event is free and open to the public and also available to watch via live webcast.

“We continued the tradition last year by having a remembrance service even during the pandemic,” said Coral Ridge Director and Air Force veteran Chuck Warren. “We don’t give up on our veterans, our heroes.

The service will bring community leaders and veteran’s organizations together to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Juan Cordero, 1SG U.S. Army Ret., will serve as the chaplain for the service. Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter will lead the Pledge of Allegiance and read a proclamation from the city. Special guests include the Gold Star Parents and families, individuals who have lost a child or sibling while serving. U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Roy St. Onge will perform patriotic songs. A “Roll Call” of deceased veterans will be read by Warren, who serves as program chair. Guest speakers will include J.(Mick) Sheldrake Senior Chief U.S. Navy Ret; State Rep. Mike Giallombardo, District 77, U.S. Army veteran, and Warrant Officer in the Florida National Guard; and Margaret and Bill Eggers, Gold Star Parents.

“The annual Memorial Day observance is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the men and women who have served and who have sacrificed,” Warren said. “We hope the families who join us for our remembrance service gain a deeper appreciation for the importance of honoring our military, whether it’s those currently serving or veterans who served in the past.”

Additional activities will include the opportunity for family members to take a rubbing of their loved one’s names on Coral Ridge’s Honor Wall (that includes the names of the more than 3,000 veterans buried there); a Memorial Wreath presentation; a ceremonial fly-over by an Airbus H125 from the Lee County Mosquito Control District; and a motorcycle ride-in by the American Legion and Patriot Guard Riders. The Vietnam Veterans of America Firebase Chapter 594, Combat Infantrymen’s Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Knights of Columbus Assembly 2115, Boy Scout of America Troop 8463, Troop 87 and Troop 4, Cub Scout Pack 82, Cape Coral Fire Department, Cape Coral Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office will also participate.

Warren, also the chairman of the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program in Cape Coral, will speak on the need to honor and provide services for homeless veterans.

“It’s a great time to get the community back active and involved with what the true meaning of Memorial Day is,” Warren said. “We enjoy sharing with the community all the things we’re able to do for our veterans not just now, but throughout the whole year.

“As a local business employing veterans, and family members of veterans, we feel a much greater responsibility to honor the true heroes who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our amazing country, and to assist their families through difficult times. To us, every day is Memorial Day.”

Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association and Waste-Pro are among Coral Ridge’s community supporters that make the event possible.

Coral Ridge Funeral Home & Cemetery is at 950 Chiquita Blvd. To view the live online webcast, visit www.servicewebcast.com.

Eco Park

The Memorial Day service at Cape Coral’s Eco Park Veteran’s Area resumes this year after a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Memorial Day at 11:30 a.m., U.S. Army PFC Michelle Rosenberger (who hosts the service annually) will fill the Iraq War Heroes star monument that is adorned with the tags of fallen service men and women.

“We are honoring our fallen brothers and sisters; may they never be forgotten,” Rosenberger said.

Rosenberger will deliver the opening speech and honor Iraq War hero U.S. Army Sgt. Ron Creed and angel son Damian.

Guest speakers include U.S. Army CWO2 and Congressman Mike Giallombardo, U.S. Army Sgt. John Wall, U.S. Army SPC Richard Hendrzak and U.S. Army LTG Jack Stultz, Chief

Last year, Rosenberger delivered a virtual message via Facebook to honor three soldiers who died in the line of duty in Iraq. This year she will place their tags among others remembered at the Eco Park monument.

They include U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, U.S. Army Specialist Adriana Salem and U.S. Army Ranger Specialist Etienne Murphy. Adkins received the Medal of Honor two years ago for covering up a suicide bomber that cost him his life, saving many in his platoon, in 2007. Salem lost her life in 2005 serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Murphy was killed during a vehicle rollover in Syria in 2017.

Rosenberger will place the tags while SPC Jenny Foster sings Amazing Grace. Hendrzak will do a reading of the Medal of Honor citation for U.S. Army Sgt. Ross McGinnis.

The Cape Coral Police Department Honor Guard will be present. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office will perform a 21-gun salute while Taps is played by U.S. Air Force A1C Richard Osman. Wall will read a closing prayer.

Eco Park is at 25000 S.E. 24th St.

Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum

The newly opened Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum in Cape Coral will host two events over the holiday weekend to honor those who have lost their lives while serving.

On Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Brotherhood of Heroes will host a 40th anniversary remembrance of the USS Nimitz incident flight deck fire that took the lives of 14 sailors and injured 45.

The open-to-the-public event will feature a color guard, food trucks, vendors, live entertainment and more.

“We’re having people fly in from all over the country for this,” said Brotherhood of Heroes founder Carol Rae Culliton. “They’re coming to pay their respects. It’s day of honoring and remembering those who have passed and remembering those who are still with us.”

Culliton credits Cape veteran and business owner Chris Cammarota for helping organize the event, as he was aboard aboard the USS Nimitz the day of incident.

On May 26, 1981, a Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler crashed on the flight deck of the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier named after World War II Pacific fleet commander Chester W. Nimitz. The crash and subsequent explosions and fire either destroyed or damaged 19 other aircrafts. The fire was fed by the steady flow of fuel from the punctured tank of a just-refueled aircraft. When the fire was believed to be out and orders were given to start the cleanup, a “sparrow” missile warhead detonated, killing two and injuring seven while rekindling the fire. It left a 12-inch by 24-inch wide by 3-inch-deep depression in the flight deck. Two other warheads detonated after the first explosion.

On Memorial Day, Brotherhood of Heroes will host a cookout from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. “It’s a more quiet and solemn day,” Culliton said.

The free event will feature the classic cookout staples: hamburgers and hot dogs, chips and soda.

Tours of the museum will be available at both events.

The Brotherhood Heroes Resource Center and Museum is at 4522 Del Prado Blvd.

For more information, visit www.thebrotherhoodofheroes.com.

Memorial Gardens

Fort Myers Memorial Gardens Funeral Home and Cemetery has announced that they will be hosting their annual Memorial Day service.

The annual service honoring local and national heroes is to take place in Fort Myers Memorial Gardens’ Field of Honor at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.

“We just want to give back, and Memorial Day is a day where we can reflect on what this day truly represents,” said Memorial Gardens General Manager Dan Bryan. “Over the last year not being able to do any of that really left a void. People are hungry and want to do what’s right and we’re excited to make it happen.”

The ceremony will include participation from the Guns N’ Hoses Pipes and Drum Corps of SWFL, Harney Point VFW Post 8463 of Cape Coral, with the keynote addresses delivered by the Honorable Kevin B. Anderson, mayor of the City of Fort Myers and RADM Roger W. Triftshauser, Dental Corps, USNR (Ret).

Members of the Collier-Lee Honor Flight and Wreaths Across America also will participate.

“It’s a day to celebrate the freedoms that we have,” Bryan said. “We’re so blessed.”

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. on May 29, community members will have the opportunity to place flags on each of the graves of the thousands of veterans resting in this section of the cemetery. Interested participants should arrive at the location’s Colonial Family Center at that time to await further instructions.

“It’s one of the most moving things you can experience,” Bryan said. “To be able to step back and look at each flag knowing it represents someone who sacrificed it all to ensure that we are free. It’s very humbling.”

Memorial Gardens is at 1589 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers.

Taps Across America

Taps Across America is an organization that promotes the Sounding of Taps on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. The National Moment of Remembrance is an annual event that asks all citizens, wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time, to pause for a duration of one minute in silent tribute to the men and women who have honorably served in uniform and to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

The organization started last year as a way to commemorative the fallen on Memorial Day during the COVID-19 pandemic and picked up steam when Steve Hartman of CBS’s On the Road highlighted their efforts.

Videos poured in of individuals around the world playing taps at 3 p.m. their time from their balconies, porches, local parks, and various other locations.

At Blue Crab Key, a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam combat veteran and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association member will be performing Taps at 3 p.m.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj