Honoring our fallen
By CHUCK BALLARO
Tens of thousands of American military personnel who fought for our freedom were remembered for their sacrifice on a cool Saturday morning at Tarpon Point Marina during the annual Wreaths Across America event.
So, it seemed fitting that those being honored, who fought by land, air and sea, be honored the same way.
This particular event, in a veteran-friendly area such as Cape Coral, is considered one of the granddaddies. Of the nearly 1,000 “Wreaths” celebrations nationwide, Cape Coral’s, which was the first to include a sea element to its ceremony, is also the first, and only, to have an air element as well.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a wonderful tribute to them,” said Jack Wagner, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. “Since World War I, we’ve had 92,000 people missing, unaccounted for.”
The Dec. 13 event featured remarks and a proclamation from Gov. Rick Scott delivered by Mayor Marni Sawicki and County Commissioner Brian Hamman, as well as Capt. Pat McCarn and his wife, Nancy, who co-led the elaborate program.
The event had a particular importance to Sawicki, who lost a family member at sea.
“My great uncle was on the U.S.S. Houston and he was lost at sea, so it’s a great remembrance for my family and everyone who served and didn’t come home,” Sawicki said. “We are one of the largest veteran-supported communities, and the way they do this is so nice.”
Singer Dallas Bel of Touch a Hero’s Heart sang the national anthem and “God Bless America” with the AHT4U Girls Choir
It also featured a speech from LTJG Shawn Antonelli of the U.S. Coast Guard St. Petersburg Sector, who commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion and the role the Coast Guard played in its success.
“The ships played a pivotal role in the landings, and for saving the lives of many wounded soldiers and sailors wounded by the enemy fire and mines,” Antonelli said of one of the darkest days in Coast Guard history. “Sadly, 15 Coast Guardsmen and more than 1,000 U.S. troops lost their lives in Normandy. But without them, the casualties may have been much worse.”
The main event involved the seven wreaths, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and POW/MIAs.
The seven biodegradable wreaths were donated by Worcester Wreath Company, which donates seven wreaths to every Wreaths Across America location for their remembrance ceremony.
SuEllen Floral adorned the wreaths with poinsettias and red/white/blue mums in memory of her father, Joseph L. Fabrinni, who served in the Army Air Corps.
They were given to representatives from each unit by members of the choir and high school students who won the recent “Pride & Patriotism” art contest and put on a boat en route to international waters.
The Lee County Sheriff Office Honor Guard gave the 21-gun salute and played “Taps” as the boats exited.
The gulf remembrance service took place approximately three miles offshore of Fort Myers Beach, with five Sea Ray amphibious planes escorting the wreaths down the river. Once at the location, a Lee County Sheriff’s helicopter conducted a flyover, where the wreaths found their resting place.
For many, it was a touching tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“It’s a great event, great support for the veterans, and we have to do all we can to support them. They’ve given us the freedom they have and for all intents and purposes saved the world,” said former mayor John Sullivan.
“Anyone who takes any pride in their country will have enjoyed this ceremony,” Coast Guard Auxiliary Connie Irvin said.
“It’s significant that in this one area, it’s the only one with land, sea and air coverage for this event. It’s a credit to the community, particularly with the large veteran population that we can pull this off,” auxiliary member Bill Petritz added.