On December 7, 1941, the country of Japan attacked the American naval base in Pearl Harbor Hawaii, initiating America’s involvement in World War II.
On April 1, 2017 in the little city of Venice Florida, approximately 150 Veterans of the United States of America gathered on the Venice High School baseball field to be honored, to be appreciated and to be thanked.
The field was prepared and ready.
“Old Glory” presided over the festivities.
Among the dignitaries were Veterans of WW II.
These folks range in age from 90 to 96.
There were Korean War Veterans.
There were Vietnam Vets
And some from more recent world conflicts.
Over 16,000,000 Americans served in World War II and The National World War II Museum in New Orleans estimates that, in 2016, there were approximately 650,000 still living. It is my pleasure to introduce a few of them.
Sgt. JoAnn Hacay served in the Civil Air Patrol in Roanoke Virginia from 1944-1948. It was the largest air patrol unit in the country.
Walt Glaws (top) and “Clink” Forsberg (below) were both B-24 pilots however in the truest trademark of the “Greatest Generation”, all “Clink” would say about it all was ” yea I flew a plane” and Walt just wanted to talk about his brother who was an “ace” flyer.
Bill Burger, the elder statesman of the group at 96, was a flight engineer who served in the US Army Air Corps. He designed the engines for both the B-24 and B-29 and trained the flight crews.
Chief Yeoman Officer Richard Lapan, served on the USS Mount McKinley which directed the landing of the 77th Infantry Division on the southern coast of Okinawa. He also served in the capacity of Admiral’s Secretary which found him privy to top secret info. He was constantly accompanied by the Navy Shore Patrol.
Jack Hollerback served as a 3rd Class Petty Officer on the USS Vincennes. I asked Jack the somewhat rhetorical question ” so I assume you were in the Pacific?” Jack, “yea.” Seeking to hear about any action he may have seen, I asked, ‘so where were you.” Jack, “we were all over.” It was clear after a bit of prodding Jack was not particularly forth coming. So when I got home I researched the Vincennes. Here’s what I found. She was a screen for the carrier carrying the Doolittle Raid fliers. They participated in the Battle of Midway and in the Guadalcanal Campaign. AND, it was sunk in the Battle of Savo Island taking 332 men with her.
Sgt. Erwin Berg was a Royal Dutch Marine who served aboard the HNLMS Piet Hein which was sunk in the Battle of Badung. He was rescued by a British Allied ship which was also sunk landing him in a Japanese POW camp from which he escaped. Erwin is 95 years young.
This Veterans Night had a special twist for yours truly. The guy in the Red Sox hat is my “big brother” Willie. Willie served in Vietnam in the 3rd battalion, 22nd infantry of the 25th infantry division. He took part in countless search and destroy missions in and around Cu Chi, Tay Ninh, Dau Tieng, Hoe Mon and Saigon. He participated in operations in the Iron Triangle receiving two Purple Hearts. He is surrounded by family who came to honor him. Grandson Gus holds the baseball.
Coach Faulkner shakes hands with Captain Jerry Biller.
Jerry is a graduate of Venice High School he received his commission from the University of Central Florida as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1989. He served in the 101st Airborne as a Platoon leader and a U.S. Airborne Ranger Scout Recon Team Leader leading 3 sniper and 3 reconnaissance teams. He served in Central American in early 1990 and in the fall of 1990 through 1992 he deployed to Operation Desert Storm which later became the Persian Gulf War.
As an Air Assault Pathfinder unit, Team Jerry served in the 3rd/187 Rakkasan Unit, leading the invasion of US forces as the first into Iraq determining enemy location and stopping the resupply of Kuwait through his deployment of sniper teams along HWY 8. He was awarded the Bronze Star for Leadership and the combat infantry badge. Team Jerry was featured on the cover of the book Certain Victory which is now taught as military doctrine.
A few of the host of volunteers who made all this happen. These young ladies greeted each veteran and signed them in. Every veteran’s name was read as they walked onto the field.
Four more members of the volunteer crew who worked to make every vet know that they were and are VIP’s.
Countless people offered their time and energy to pay tribute to our veterans.
Venice High freshman Gabe Mopps played the National Anthem. Gabe is the First Chair Violinist Concert Master with the Sarasota Youth Orchestra. The violin he is playing was made in 1910.
Venice High Senior Hannah Jai, who recently opened for Bon Jovi sang God Bless America in the bottom of the fourth inning.
The Young Marines of Venice Middle School were one of three color guards who participated in the event.
The JROTC of Venice High School was the second color guard.
No-Vel Legion Post 159 provided the third honor guard.
And they provided a 21 rifle salute as well.
And their bugler played taps.
The umpires donned red, white and blue.
From left to right, Chris Hunt served in the Sarasota Police Department and he was part of the protection detail for President George W Bush on his visit to Sarasota on September 11, 2001. Josh Copeland (center) served in the Marine Corps for four years and Tim Tate is a 17 year veteran of the US Air Force.
Venice Police Chief Tom Mattmuller and Captain John Jernigan of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office led the color guards on the field.
Venice Mayor John Holic, here with former Venice High teacher Mr. Mitchell, led the honored guests on the field.
They gathered by the batting cages and were presented with a baseball.
Coach Faulkner and members of the coaching staff greeted each of the nearly 150 veterans who made their way to the field.
Each vet’s name was called and they were invited to take the field and participate in the first pitch ceremony.
The Venice Indians are ready to receive the first pitch.
The visiting Rams participated in the ceremony as well, but not before applauding the vets as they took the field.
Four different “First Pitch” events accommodated the branches of the service, with the Coast Guard and Navy combining forces.
The game was played, with Ty engaging in his rookie performance as the Indian bat boy.
The Indians prevailed in an exciting 4-3 comeback win and the night came to an end with a fireworks display.
The real winners, however, were the veterans and all who were present.
It was a celebration of America, replete with…
Respect and gratitude…
And as I reflected on the night I was struck by the notion that these men and women who served our country, continue to do so. For what transpired was the building of a bridge across a century of American generations; the vehicle, the great American game of baseball. Nearly 500 people, in a small town on the west coast of Florida, gathered to simply say thank you to 150 of their fellow Americans. Thank you for answering your country’s call, thank you for your service wearing the uniform of your nation and above all, thank you for joining us on this magical night and building a bridge across generations of your fellow citizens. For, because of your presence on this night, the young men and women, boys and girls you touched, will embrace their future with a better understanding of what it means to be an American.
And embodied in that bridge is…HOPE!
So with honor, pride, respect and the deepest gratitude we say….Thank you!
And thank you to Lisa Guscette for the photos.
And so it is on this day, April 7, 2017, Good Night Colonel.