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Cape Coral remembers 9/11

By Staff | Sep 10, 2015

Events are planned for today and Saturday to commemorate the victims and heroes of 9/11.

On Sept. 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes to carry out suicide attacks. Two planes were flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York, a third plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 people were killed during the attacks.

Today, the Harney Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8463 will host a Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony starting at noon. The service will feature guest speakers, patriotic songs and more.

Saturday, the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library will host the Parade of Heroes and Heroes’ Festival from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the South Cape, then on the grounds of the museum.

All of the scheduled events are free and open to the public.

“We will have our traditional ceremony,” Randy Eckel, captain of the VFW honor guard, said.

Lasting for about an hour, it will include a 21-gun salute, military “Taps” played on a bugle and the singing of “Amazing Grace” by Janet Ingratta. There will also be the official ringing of the bell.

“That signifies the members of the fire department that passed away,” he said.

Guest speakers for the service include Police Chief Bart Connelly, Fire Chief Donald Cochran and former Mayor John Sullivan, among others. The chaplain for VFW Post 8463 will also speak.

“We have several gentlemen that were at 9/11,” Eckel said. “A few get up and share.”

Approximately 150 people turned out for last year’s ceremony.

“I hope at least that amount will show up, maybe more,” he said of this year.

Post member Joseph DiGregorio, who passed away within the last year, first organized the event in 2002 and did so every year after. A former New York firefighter, he lost a nephew in the attacks.

“We serve all veterans, no matter if they’re police department or fire department,” Eckel said of continuing the annual tradition. “They’re still part of the military as far as we’re concerned.”

“It’s our patriotic duty,” he added.

Snacks and refreshments will be available afterward.

This is the first year for the Parade of Heroes and Heroes’ Festival.

“It’s our 9/11 celebration. It’s a tribute to the 9/11 responders and our local responders and veterans,” Ralph Santillo, founder and president of the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library, said.

“Our main thing is we want to provide a day of memory,” he said.

At 10 a.m., the parade will start off at Lafayette Street and Cape Coral Street and travel west. At Vincennes Street, it will turn left, followed by a right turn onto Miramar Street. The parade will then take a right at Leonard Street and head north, before winding into the parking lot of the museum.

“We have a little over 70 marching units,” Santillo said Wednesday.

There will be military and first responder vehicles, groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and organizations such as the Sons of the Revolution and the Daughters of the Confederacy. Local officials are expected to take part in the parade, along with the Vietnam Brotherhood and the Patriotic Riders.

“We have a number of bikers. Most of the bikers are veterans or they’re related to police or law enforcement,” he said. “We have a couple of floats. We have our own float that we built.”

Santillo had hoped to sign up some high school bands but the timing was too close to the start of the school year. However, he expressed gratitude for the number of groups that are participating.

“We’re flabbergasted,” Santillo said. “We didn’t expect to have that kind of response.”

As for the unusual parade route, the area was recently redone as part of a beautification effort.

“We thought it’d be a good idea to show off the street and have it on the other side of Cape Coral Parkway,” he said. “So some of the merchants (in the area) would be able to take advantage.”

After the parade, the festival will take place at museum until 8 p.m.

“We thought it’d be a good thing to just bring out our community,” Santillo said.

Local groups will provide live entertainment, including the Cape Chorale and the Hot Flashz dance team. There will be area performers, as well as singer Savannah Maddison, with Savannah’s Soldiers.

“She goes around the country to schools and talks to schoolkids her age,” he said of the national campaign. “She talks about writing letters to soldiers who are deployed.”

The museum’s band will also take the stage.

“They’ll be playing patriotic music and a lot of stuff from the ’50s,” Santillo said.

Law enforcement, fire and EMS vehicles will be on site.

“There’ll be military vehicles parked here for the kids to look at,” he said, adding that children and families will have an opportunity to have their picture taken with the vehicles.

Games and activities are planned, like face painting.

“We’re trying to get some things for the kids to do,” Santillo said.

Over 40 product and business vendors will be set up.

“There’ll be items to purchase,” he said. “There’s some businesses that want to promote.”

“It’s just a little bit of a mix of everything,” Santillo said.

Food and drink vendors will also be on hand.

“Of course, our museum will be open all day,” he said. “It’ll be open to the public.”

Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Four new exhibits will be unveiled.

“We’ve improved our 9/11 exhibit, which is something we’ve had from the get go,” Santillo said.

Organizers would like to see a turnout of about 5,000 people.

“I’m hoping we’re going to get a real crowd to enjoy the day,” he said.

“If we do, we’re going to do this every year,” Santillo added.

For more information on the Parade of Heroes and Heroes’ Festival, contact (239) 541-8704.

The Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library is at 4820 Leonard St.

For more information on the Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony, contact 239-542-8463.

The Harney Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8463 is at 4709 S.E. 11th Place.