RUSKIN – Thousands of flag-waving South Shore residents turned out for the Ruskin Veterans Day Parade to honor past or active-duty members of the military – and to keep patriotism alive. By all accounts, both were accomplished.
“We’re here today, we’re able to do this because of the efforts of all our veterans over the last century,” said Riverview resident Phil Stiver, 84, a retired police officer. “It’s a show of respect for a debt we could never repay.”
Led by honorary grand marshal Jerry Yohman of Apollo Beach, a Korean War veteran, the procession included more than 80 veterans groups, JROTC units, scout troops, businesses, krewes, civic and religious organizations. This year’s Buddy Poppy King Avery Loschinkoho, 10, and Queen Mariah Rodriguez, 10, rode atop a convertible waving to bystanders, and the Eisenhower Middle School Marching Band performed throughout the 1.7-mile route.
Judges Mia Zuzazk, John and Penny Smith, Jim and Pam Vassello, Don Pearson, Ron Simpson and Phyllis Gannon assessed each parade entrant and gave category awards at the post-parade party as follows:
Best Commercial Entry – Weichert, Realtors - SouthShore;
Most Innovative – Brandon High School JROTC;
American Tribute – Krewe of the South Shore Marauders;
Veterans Day Specialty Entry – Sun City Center Shrine Club;
Grand Marshal’s Choice Award – Krewe of the Sea SaveYours;
Best American Youth Group – First Baptist Church.
Daniel Ortiz of Ruskin, who served in both the Army and Navy during Operation Desert Storm, stood waving a small American flag as as the procession marched by. His 16-year-old daughter, Cassandra, was part of the Lennard High School JROTC unit.
“I bring my children so they realize the importance of honoring veterans who sacrificed their time and, in some cases their lives, to keep our country free,” he said. “It was a double pleasure for me to see her march in the parade and to be recognized as a veteran myself.”
Korean War veteran Don Schuster of Sun City Center saluted as every American flag and veteran passed by.
“I go every year and always enjoy it. It’s very well organized,” he said. “I especially get a kick out of the kids in the parade. It’s a positive experience all around.”