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Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive!

By Staff | Aug 12, 2015

BOB PETCHER Lee County Spirit of ‘45 Day at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort served as the local annual day of remembrance for World War II veterans. They will always remember, and we should never forget.

America’s real super heroes were honored for their courage, shared sacrifice and commitment to service at Lee County Spirit of ’45 Day in Fort Myers at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort on Sunday.

World War II veterans and their families celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of that cold war that laid the foundation to ensure a better tomorrow for future generations. That day was Aug. 14, 1945.

Each year, the annual day of remembrance celebrated on the second Sunday of August aids in reminding America of the values and accomplishments of the Greatest Generation that “endured the hard times of the Great Depression, fought to defeat the greatest tyranny in history, and then went on to rebuild their shattered world in an unprecedented effort to help assure a better future for both friend and former foe alike.”

This year, a record number of participants savored speeches, entertainment, moments of silence and emotional remembrances. Attendance involved 348 guests, including 86 WWII veterans and 67 more from the same generation. They will always remember.

“The amount of love and support for this initiative has grown significantly over the past two years,” said Eryka Aptaker, who serves as Lee County chairperson for the Spirit of ’45. “Please understand that if Aug. 14, 1945 had gone in any other direction, life as we know it would be completely different. We would likely not be here today.”

In August 2010, Congress unanimously passed a resolution to recognize a National Spirit of ’45 day. Florida was the first state to achieve the honor on the state level.

“That is what Spirit of ’45 is all about – making sure that our nation’s Greatest Generation legacy is passed down to our generation of today,” Aptaker said.

Many World War II veterans have passed away, while some are/were considered prisoners of war and missing in action and thus called comrades by their military brotherhood. A table was set in their honor.

“We join together to pay our humble tribute and to bear witness at their continued absence,” said Commander Gregg Van Dusseldorp of American Legion, Melvin Cowart Post 274 on Fort Myers Beach. “Let us remember and never forget their sacrifice.”

World War II speakers -Fort Myers Beach resident Edward “Huggy” Ellyat, George Yurcak, Ray Carlson and Harry Shapiro- shared stories of their military careers that spoke of the standard of excellence created.

Ellyat held a sonar petty officer position for the U.S. Navy Reserves and served as a mine sweeper that swept or destroyed 172 underwater mines. Yurcak was a lower ranking official in World War II who became an instructor of propellors after an eyesight problem would not allow him to fly fighter planes. Carlson joined the Marines and was a gunner after battling malaria. Shapiro was an Army man who became a B17 flight engineer and a mission combat flyer.

Ellyat, a 42-year Beach resident, recently suffered a head injury after a fall and was not expected to make the event let alone survive the damage that almost required brain surgery. He moved to the U.S. at age 3 from Canada and is celebrating his 90th birthday today (Wednesday, Aug. 12).

“Not being born in this country, I feel for the stars and stripes I think more than most born Americans,” he said before reading a poem. “I still get a thrill when the National Anthem is played and sung.”

The Lee County Spirit of ’45 event included an Aerial Salute by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit, Calling of Colors and Marching of the Color Guard, Pledge of Allegiance, Singing of the National Anthem, Opening Prayer, POW/MIA Presentation, performances by “Dancing Feat,” Cultural Park Theater members and Guns n Hoses, Pipes n Drums of Southwest Florida, World War II veteran speeches, Honor Guard volleys, Echo Taps, Wreath Service, Poppy Service and a Silent Salute that featured a simulation of a World War II soldier with his brother’s rifle and his own helmet that left many grown men and women in tears.

Commander Adam Prentki, III of the American Legion Post 303 in Bonita Springs closed out the ceremony with words to reflect upon.

“May this evening’s event and events such as this being held all across the country serve to bring families, friends and communities together, so that your legacy of service is forever remembered,” he said. “Let us also remember those who have been called from our midst. Let us join together and celebrate their lives and the remembrance of their service and always be mindful of their sacrifices and the sacrifices of all veterans. Because of you, the world is free, our nation lives and the world is truly blessed.”

‘Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive’ is a non-profit, non-partisan initiative to preserve the legacy of the men and women of the Greatest Generation so that their example of courage, self-sacrifice, “can-do” attitude and commitment to community can help inspire a renewal of national unity in America at a time when our country once again must come together to meet historic challenges.