SUN CITY CENTER – Residents of Sun City Center take Veterans Day seriously. They should.
Many are veterans, wives of veterans and parents or grandparents of folks who have served or are currently serving in the United States military.
The largest annual Veterans Day celebration in the community took place at Community Hall last week, and almost every seat in the house was filled. Organizers estimated the crowd at more than 400.
Organized by members of all Sun City Center military organizations – including local chapters of the American Legion and Disabled Veterans; Military Officers Association of America and Military Order of the World Wars; and the Navy Seabees, Silver Osprey Squadron and SCC Leathernecks – the program was emceed by Ret. Army Col. Paul Wheat.
“We do this for two reasons,” he said. “First it’s to recognize all past and current veterans and second, we have to make sure the reason for Veterans Day carries forth into future generations.”
That sentiment was echoed by keynote speaker Steve Otto, an Air Force veteran and columnist for the The Tampa Tribune.
Otto talked about a recent survey of 20 people under age 50 that he had informally conducted on what they knew about “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” Sadly, he said, only a few knew he was referring to Armistice Day, which President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed to commemorate the truce between the Allies and Germans that ended World War I in 1918.
Otto lamented few students today study American history and even his own sons probably will not serve in the military. Short of recommending a draft, he suggested one to two years of some sort of national service be required of all American youth.
“There’s a disconnect between us and our military overseas today,” he said, thanking the aging crowd for their strongly felt support of veterans.
Dignitaries attending the event included State House Rep. Jake Raburn, Dist. 57; his aide Taylor Ferguson; Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan; Dana Dittmar, executive director of the Sun City Center Area Chamber of Commerce; Ed Barnes, president of the Sun City Center Community Association; and Eileen Peco, president of the Kings Point Federation.
The program began with a procession led by Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient Ret. Army Col. Darrell Katz, the grand marshal, and drummers Robert Lohr and Edmund James, both veterans. The East Bay High School Color Guard presented the colors and The Rev. Julian Graham of SCC United Methodist Church, gave the invocation and benediction. Ret. Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon Bassett led the Pledge of Allegiance and the Trinity Luthern Church Chorus, conducted by The Rev. James Feast, sang the National Anthem and provided patriotic, musical interludes, including a veterans service tribute, where attendees of all military branches were asked to stand and be recognized.
“This is a very patriotic town, said Ret. Navy Cmdr. Ed Socha, who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Now 92, Socha had invited Otto to be keynote speaker and introduced him at the ceremony. “We’re mostly old folks who share this day to honor everyone, living or dead, who served.”