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Honoring our fallen

By Staff | May 28, 2013

Always remember the veterans who gave their lives in service to their country.

That was the emphasis of the comments made by the speakers featured at the Memorial Day 2013 service Monday morning at the Veterans Honor Garden at Coral Ridge Cemetery in Cape Coral.

“To all of us here today, it’s more than a three-day weekend, it has meaning, a purpose,” Maj. Vincent Cummings, U.S. Army Reserves National Chaplain, R.O.A. of the United States, said during his presentation.

“Today is a day to remember those who died in service of the military for the United States.”

Acknowledging all the veterans buried at Coral Ridge, he went on to point out four soldiers — Pfc. Brandon Wadman, Pfc. Derrick Gwaltney, Army Spc. Manuel Lopez III and Capt. Dan Eggers — who were killed in more recent battles abroad.

“Today we pay tribute to these soldiers who passed that claimed Cape Coral as their home.”

He went on to recognize “a special family” and another native son of Cape Coral, having Dan and Tiffany Ashby stand, pointing out that their son Corey Kent, “who gave his all,” while serving in the U.S. Army. In July 2010, Pfc. Kent lost both his legs and the fingers on his left hand as a result of an improvised explosive device (IED) while on patrol in Afghanistan.

In closing, Cummings said, “Let me put this question back to you: What does Memorial Day mean to all of us? Those who served would ask nothing but to be respected.

“If their voices could speak from the grave, they would ask, ‘Do not let my sacrifice be for nothing.”

Another speaker, Ralph Santillo, is the president and founder of the Invest in America’s Veteran Foundation, an organization which has established a military museum here in Cape Coral.

Taking what he called a “trip down memory lane,” Santillo described his military career and recalled similar military experiences of a number of his uncles.

Referring to his family members, he said, “It never dawned on me that I grew up around heroes of the Greatest Generation.”

That, in part, was the reason he has worked hard to create the Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation and the museum.

“The true meaning of Memorial Day,” he said, is to take pause, to give a moment to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. He continued, saying we “need to celebrate their lives, not their deaths.”

“I look around and see all these grave sites and I’m still surrounded by heroes.”

The program also included Mayor John Sullivan leading the crowd in the pledge of allegiance, Pastor Tommy Rickards of Grace Life Church presenting the invocation and the closing benediction; Jorge A. Bracero, chairman of the Coral Ridge Funeral Home and Cemetery, who served as host of the event and read the names on the Honor Roll; The Sun-Sations barbershop quartet singing the national anthem and “God Bless America;” the Harney Point VFW 8463 conducting a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps; and a 21 white dove release by Ken Whiteside of SW Florida White Doves.

Lee County Mosquito Control District also conducted a flyover with a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter. Also participating were the American Legion Post 90, and Cub Scout Troop 8463 and Girl Scout Troop 347 handed out programs and flags, and later offering water to those in attendance.

Following the official ceremonies, guests enjoyed a free barbecue and refreshments on the grounds of the cemetery, which is located at 1630 Pine Island Road.