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Inaugural Memorial Day parade set for noon on May 27

By Staff | May 23, 2019

As the country prepares to observe Memorial Day this Monday, Cape Coral is doing its part to honor all of those who put their country before themselves and sacrificed their life fighting for the freedoms we as Americans enjoy today.

The inaugural Memorial Day Parade will take place on Cape Coral Parkway at noon on May 27, put on by the SWFL Military Museum & Library.

“It is a day where we can unite as a community to honor and remember our fallen,” said Missi Lastra, director of operations at the museum. “Also, it is an opportunity to celebrate our freedoms because of those who have sacrificed everything for them. I hope our community remembers this day as inspirational and renews or reinvigorates our innate patriotism.”

The parade will boast two grand marshals that are distinguished members of The Greatest Generation, Ruth Byam Blake and Pancho Mauricio.

“We are honored to have amazing co-grand marshals, Ruth Byam Blake and Poncho Mauricio who have served our country and community extraordinarily well,” said Lastra.

Byam Blake, a Massachusetts native, now resides in Estero. Her military service spans over 20 years, as she was inspired by family that served in World War I. So, when Franklin Roosevelt came over the radio to let the nation know that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, she wanted to help.

She enlisted on May 3, 1945, after completing high school with World War II happening across the ocean.

“Ruth’s first assignment, in Washington, D.C., was to process information about sailors killed in action and prepare it for release to the families. Ruth’s participation spanned one year and seven months. Dec. 31, 1946, President Truman declared the end of hostilities of World War II,” said Sharmin Fairbanks McKenny, member of the Estero Island Chapter National Society Daughters of American Revolution, where Byam Blake is a member.

Byam Blake continued to serve following the end of World War II, through three years of the Korean War and 10 years of the Vietnam War, serving at Naval Air Stations in Washington, D.C., Texas, Illinois, California, Virginia and Louisiana.

She earned six medals over her career, including World War II Victory, Naval Reserve, Naval Good Conduct medal and ribbon, American Campaign and National Defense Service Medal. Byam Blake was discharged as a U.S. Navy Yeoman First Class.

“At 94 years old, shy but confident and determined, Ruth drives a silver Dodge Ram pickup and continues to knit lap robes for wheelchair bound veterans and caps for premature babies and children treated for cancer,” said Fairbanks McKenny.

“We absolutely love Ruth,” said fellow NSDAR member Amy Dell Aquila. “She was smiling ear to ear when I told her I had procured her a ride in the sheriff’s car for the Memorial Day Parade. She is truly a national treasure, in my personal humble estimation.”

Mauricio has been a Cape Coral resident for 34 years, and was an engineer and major in the Filipino Army during World War II. He was captured by the Japanese, along with 75,000 other Filipino and American soldiers, and was force-marched 65 miles through the Philippine Jungle – known as the Bataan Death March.

In 2017, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to honor the service and sacrifice of more than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers during the Second World War. It is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon civilians in the United States.

Lastra is proud of the work the museum has done to put on the event and recognize such an important day for military, many of whom call this area of the country home.

“At the SWFL Military Museum & Library, out team is proud to be part of this community that holds all veterans in the highest esteem. Cape Coral is the first Purple Heart City in SWFL and it shows in our veteran-rich population. More importantly it shows in the local organizations and individuals that find ways every day to honor our guardians of freedom,” said Lastra. “The history that fills our mess hall from the boots on the ground/sea/air of every conflict in our history since World War II in humbling. It is inspiring.”

“Big Mama and the WiLD Bunch” from B1039 will serve as the emcees for the parade.

Included in the parade will be military and emergency response vehicles, the Dunbar High School Marching Band, local scout troops, members of local law enforcement and more.

The singing of the National Anthem will be performed by Ciara Danielle Everly, a criminal investigative assistant in Major Crimes for the Lee County Sheriffs Office.

“We will also have a special, honored guest, Fame Academia. There will be a brief ceremony to kick off the parade to include words of honor from Gen. James Dozier, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno and Cape Coral Police Chief David Newlan,” said Lastra. “There is a rumor Chief Newlan may be debuting a never-before-seen (in Cape Coral) police vehicle. And do not forget to cool down and fill up at the Military Museum after the parade. We will have entertainment, food, beverage, AC and good times.”

A post-parade lunch at the museum will feature your choice of Sloppy Joe’s or a chicken salad sandwich, coleslaw, chips, coffee, tea, or water for $8. A cash bar will also be available.

The parade could not have come to fruition without the help of the City of Cape Coral, its Parks and Recreation Department, LSCO, CCPD, Cape City Council, volunteers, staff, parade committee and sponsors, said Lastra.

The museum over the last four years held a parade dedicated to 9/11, but had to cancel two out of the four due to inclement weather in September. Museum officials met with the Cape Parks and Recreation to suggest a Memorial Day parade, and they were all for it.

“Every city should have a Memorial Day Parade,” said city Special Events Coordinator, Todd King.

“Military families understand that freedom is not free,” said Lastra. “The price for it is high and many have paid the ultimate sacrifice throughout our history. We must honor our service men and women who paid that price, and we should do so all year long. Memorial Day is the day we celebrate, honor and remember as a community and as a nation. We can never forget our freedom was not free.”

The parade will stretch along Cape Coral Parkway from Del Prado Boulevard to Leonard Street.

The SWFL Military Museum & Library is at 4820 Leonard St.

Visit swflmm.org for more information

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj