Veterans across Cape Coral have enjoyed plenty of activities throughout the week, from luncheons to the dedication of the Iraq War Monument, to just having a stranger walk up to them and thank them for their service to our country.
Monday was the capper as thousands gathered on Southeast 47th Terrace between Southeast 9th Place and Southeast 15th Avenue for the ninth annual Veterans Day Parade, and this one proved to be the biggest ever.
The meaning of the day wasn’t lost on anybody, whether they were veterans watching or taking part, and it has taken on a bigger meaning in recent years.
Gary Bowler, a decorated veteran of the Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1969-70 and a 35-year Cape Coral resident, doesn’t miss this event.
“For me it’s a day to reflect on the real heroes, the ones who never came back. For others it’s a chance to show their patriotism by standing when the flag comes by. It’s about service to the country, not politics,” Bowler said.
The Cape Coral Police led the procession of classic cars, bikes, trikes, jeeps and other vehicles and marchers, many of whom the parade was in honor of, whether from Vietnam, Korea or otherwise.
Some of the veterans threw candy to the kids lined along the route while the veteran marchers got thanks from the crowd for their service.
Vikki Gavin was witness to the parade for the third straight year and was enjoying it more than ever.
“It’s what the day represents, what our veterans have done for our country and what the soldiers do today. My daughter wants to join the Navy,” Gavin said.
Next to Gavin was her “future daughter-in-law,” Roselyn Hechavarria, 9, who had built up an impressive collection of goodies, but still know of the day’s meaning.
“This is important because it’s my sister-in-law’s parade and I love her,” Hechavarria said.
More than 1,000 JROTC members throughout all 18 Lee County high schools were on hand to march, the trail of them reaching throughout the entire route.
They marched and chanted cadences, seemingly as a way to compete with the other JROTC teams with them.
The Oasis squad yelled out “Sharkbite,” a nod to their team nickname, for example, while Mariner’s squad all carried rifles and twirled them like batons in unison. No easy task.
Ida Baker’s squad was also in the procession, for whom Edward Drennan and Abby Kingery marched as a way to commemorate them.
“We need to celebrate their sacrifice and remember all they’ve done for our country,” Drennan said.
“It means a lot to all of us. It’s a real honor to be able to march in an event to salute our veterans,” Kingery added. “We were part of something very big today.”
Also on hand were Mayor John Sullivan and the three sitting members of council, who rode on the back of convertibles.
Toward the back of the procession were mayor-elect Marni Sawicki and District 4 winner Richard Leon, who chose to walk the route, while District 1 winner Jim Burch and District 6 winner Rick Williams hitched a ride on a Corvette.
Ida Baker High School and North Fort Myers High marching bands performed, while the Mariner cheerleaders also marched in military caps to represent, before the Shriners caravan, the Salvation Army and Santa brought up the rear.
Joe Bleers, a Vietnam Army veteran who watched the event, said it was great the people came out to show their support for the veterans, especially the JROTC.
“It’s good the kids get involved and want to support their country. It gives them discipline and we need that,” Bleers said.
The event was hosted by NBC-2 anchorman Nick Ciletti, who announced all the action from across from the review stand.
“This was amazing. It’s nice to see so many people support our vets. They shouldn’t be forgotten and today Cape Coral proved they aren’t being forgotten,” Ciletti said. “It’s nice to see.”