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Military Museum starts banner program to honor veterans

By Staff | May 22, 2015

The Southwest Florida Military Museum is honoring veterans by displaying their picture and service on a banner along Cape Coral Parkway as a tribute to them.

SWFL Military Museum President Ralph Santillo said the idea to start the Banner program stemmed from conversations with an employee at City Hall and Councilmember Rick Williams. It was brought to his attention that a couple of cities around the country were hanging banners on light posts to honor veterans.

Since the museum already had banners displayed in their building, Santillo said they decided to take them from their building and hang them on the light poles and also offer the service to the community.

The 60th banner will be hung today, completing the first round of banners gracing Cape Coral Parkway as a tribute to veterans.

“We have 20 banners inside the museum that are permanent banners. These are banners specifically made for the outdoors,” Santillo said.

The banners, which are 2-1/2 feet by 5 feet, showcase soldiers and veterans with their service.

“The response from the veterans themselves is what made it successful,” Santillo said. “Once we told them we wanted to go outside, they thought it was a great tribute to themselves and other veterans. The veterans are the guys and gals who really supported this thing and made it work.”

It is $275 for a family to sponsor one of their own for the Banner Program.. A business that would like to sponsor a veteran, the program is $350.

“We have veterans that have paid for other veterans to be up on the banners,” Santillo said. “They wanted to honor their comrades. It’s a very moving and touching situation.”

The banners will remain on the light poles for 90 days before being replaced with a new batch of veterans to honor.

The banners that are hung now will be removed on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Santillo said they hope to put up 120 banners for the second batch, which will go up on Wednesday, Aug. 15.

He said some of the banners will be put on display at the museum after they are removed from the light poles, while others will be displayed at businesses that sponsored a veteran.

“The individual families that have supported this, we have offered to hang their banners in the museum,” Santillo said. “Quite a few of them are going to end up here.”

Those who would like to participate in the Banner Program can call the museum at (239) 541-8704 or visit www.swfmm.org. Santillo said those interested can fill out an application.

Santillo’s uncle and son are being honored with the first batch of banners.

His uncle’s banner is hung on the corner of Cape Coral Parkway and Coronado Parkway. Santillo said his uncle served in the Army Air Core during World War II as a radio man on a C-47 troop transport. He was shot down and killed on June 7, 1944.

“I look at him very proud that we are able to pay tribute to men and women like that . . . my uncle and everyone else’s uncle,” he said.

Santillo’s son’s banner, who served in the Army Airborne Infantry, is located on Cape Coral Parkway and Leonard Street. He said his son will learn about the banner on Memorial Day when his mother makes sure he drives past the banner.

Judy Petrulavage, a volunteer at the museum, decided to honor her granddaughter who is in the Army as a combat photographer.

“She is in her fourth year,” she said of her granddaughter. “She’s intending to be a lifer.”

Petrulavage’s granddaughter’s banner is located on Cape Coral Parkway and Leonard Street right next to Bank of America.

“This is a real honor to know that my granddaughter is up there. It is amazing to me,” she said. “It is an honor for any veteran to see any veteran out there.”

On Memorial Day, Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki will read a proclamation claiming Cape Coral as a Purple Heart City at the museum during a Memorial Day program. The activities begin at 1 p.m. with a dedication of the new flag and flag pole.

“We will be hanging the American flag first,” Santillo said.

In honor of being named a Purple Heart City, a purple flag will be flown under the American flag for the first month.

Santillo said Cape Coral being recognized as a Purple Heart City stemmed from a few things he saw online. He said New Port Richey had announced it was a Purple Heart City and in February he noticed that New York City also proclaimed to be Purple Heart City.

A meeting with the mayor got the ball rolling for the proclamation designating the City of Cape Coral as a Purple Heart City.

“We believe there are only 10 cities in the whole state of Florida that has that designation,” Santillo said.

He said the veterans who live in the city are going to be proud to be affiliated with the designation. Santillo said it is not only a tribute to veterans, but the hundreds and thousands of Purple Heart recipients who live in the area.