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Former POW to be honored in Cape Coral

By Staff | Oct 16, 2015

A former POW will receive a warm welcome to Cape Coral if plans made by a local veterans organization reach full fruition later this year.

On Sunday, Dec. 13, former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch will be in the Cape for a daylong welcoming ceremony. The ceremony is scheduled from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and will be attended by various military dignitaries, according to officials with AMVETS Post 65, which is organizing the event.

Some of the events throughout the day will be open to the public while others will be invite only.

Lynch made headlines in 2003 when she was the first successful rescue of an American POW since World War II and the first ever of a woman. Lynch will be coming to the Cape to visit a relative in her church. However, she won’t know the full extent of the festivities planned for her until her arrival.

“She comes from a small town in West Virginia, and they did give her a welcome home. However, we’re going to make this one huger than huge,” said Ramon Villanueva Jr. Post Commander for AMVETS Post 65 and chairman of the event.

The day will start with a special church service for Lynch at the Elks Lodge at 10 a.m.. This event will be invite only as the Elks Lodge can legally only hold 300 people.

“It gives us an opportunity to honor and welcome her and reach out to our community,” said the Rev. Anthony Cubello of The Branch of Life Christian Fellowship. “We’re just excited to be able to do this for our military people as a way to remember and thank and pray for them.”

After the church service, organizers hope to escort Lynch to the Southwest Florida Military Museum for brunch. Following brunch, Lynch and her escorts will arrive at the Iraq War Monument at Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve. There, organizers plan a small ceremony with a black dogtag, which stands for POW, to be placed on the monument. This ceremony will be open to the public.

After the placing of the black dogtag, organizers plan to take Lynch back to the military museum for a formal dinner. Before the dinner starts, they plan a 45-minute presentation where local music group, Guns and Hoses Pipes and Drums, will perform. As planned, this would be another part of the event open to the public.

“(The public will) be able to see everything. They will see the whole shebang. The show, the displays, everything is open to the public because it’s going to be outside,” said Villanueva.

The formal dinner, which is planned as invite only, will be filled with high ranking military officials, former POWs, Medal of Honor recipients, members of Special Forces, and notable Florida politicians. Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki will be in attendance to issue a proclamation, while local organizations will be on hand to present Lynch with gifts. Members of Girl Scouts Post 102 will be serving and helping out at the brunch and dinner.

Throughout the day, Lynch will not only be transported in a World War II jeep, she will also be escorted by 150 or more motorcycles. Each motorcycle will have a three inch by five inch American flag on them. The motorcycles will be driven by local AMVETS members and members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that honors fallen veterans. This will be the first time in over five years that the Patriot Guard Riders will be escorting somebody live, so it’s a big honor.

“We’re going to have Leonard Street from the Elks Lodge to the Military Museum lined on both sides with motorcycles all bearing flags,” said Villanueva.

Lynch’s expected arrival in Cape Coral is of much significance to many residents. Cape Coral is a Purple Heart city. Lynch is a Purple Heart recipient. Many people have called Villanueva Jr asking how they can help and despite a bustling schedule, he finds room for them. In the end, Villanueva Jr’s primary goal is to convey how much she’s appreciated.

“When you talk about a female POW coming to the Cape, that’s history and that’s providence. It’s for her. I want her legacy to live on in our future leaders,” said Villanueva Jr.