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Anniversary Celebration to preview military museum/library

By Staff | Sep 8, 2012

This Sunday you can join local veterans and the public in a special third Anniversary Celebration and dedication of Southwest Florida Military Museum/Library by the Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation.

There will be family fun, entertainment, prizes food and more from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. along with the preview of the unique, new area veterans museum and library.

The non-profit organization was started in 2009 to address needs of returning veterans, but has grown to be much more, said founder Ralph Santillo.

“We opened on September 11, 2009, in a 1,300 foot store front,” he said.

“We – myself being a veteran and a couple of other older veterans – realized that the younger veterans that were coming back were going to need assistance in finding jobs, careers, housing and more. We realized as they started coming back in the numbers they were coming back that there was going to be a shortage and we started hearing stories that they were coming back to no jobs, no housing and no families. The divorce rate was tremendous and many were coming back with post traumatic stress.”

He said they started announcing a monthly meeting open to veterans to discuss their situations and their problems and to try to resolve them.

“We found that we were getting a fairly good response and the surprise was that it was not just from newer veterans coming back but from a number of older veterans from previous wars all the way back to WW II who needed assistance in every day living.”

They found other veterans willing to counsel, and contacted the VA to see what they could help provide through VA programs.

“In a short period of time we went from a once a month meeting to once a week. We determined that besides the help, they were looking for a place where they could talk to other veterans. That’s when we started looking for a more permanent location that would be open to them every day.”

Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan will perform a ribbon cutting.

“The mayor and Councilman Kevin McGrail will be here, and veterans will also speak. And we have veterans people can come to talk to.”

Entertainment will include everything from a Barbershop Quartet to DJs and dance troupes, to face painting and ballon art for the children.

There also will be that introduction to the future Southwest Florida Military Museum/Library.

“It is actually a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of veterans we have here in Southwest Florida,” Santillo said. “We’ve accumulated books that date back to the Civil War era, and go all the way up to current conflicts and everything in between. These books are available for everyone to come in and read. We have a reading area and the public can also take some books out, like a lending library.”

He said they also have received items brought back from WW II and the Battle of the Bulge.

“We have a German flag from Bastogne, Belgium. The German flag was captured by an Army engineer, Cape Coral resident Weldon Taylor, who was in the Engineer Corp.”

The event is free and open to the public. Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation’s is at 4820 Leonard St. with the event in that Old Sweetbay Parking Lot there. For information, call 541-8704.