RED shirt drive gets boost from grocer

Michelle Arnold, an employee at the Winn-Dixie in Pinellas Plaza, wears her RED (Remember Everyone Deployed) shirt as she assists a customer.

The Marine Corps League wants you to see red. And the manager of an area supermarket agrees.

The league’s Col. Phillip C. DeLong Detachment 1267 in The Villages started selling red shirts three years ago. The color stands for the phrase Remember Everyone Deployed. That’s written on the front of the shirts, with the seals of the U.S. armed services on the back, along with a salute to veterans. People are asked to wear the shirts on Fridays to show their support for deployed troops. Proceeds from the shirts are one of the ways the detachment funds its gifts to more than 20 charities in the area.

The detachment’s RED shirt coordinator, Bill Beck, of the Village of Collier, works at the Winn-Dixie in Pinellas Plaza. He asked his store manager, Dan Wynn, if he could sell the shirts to his co-workers. Wynn not only agreed, but made Friday RED shirt day at the store. 

“We have a lot of veterans who work here and in the community,” he said. “Every time we have an outreach for a charitable cause, the community goes overboard supporting it.”

So far, more than 40 employees of the store have bought shirts to support the detachment. And now, Beck and other league members have begun setting up a table in front of the store on select Fridays to sell the shirts to the public. 

On May 8, one shirt went to Joyce and Ralph Kane, of the Village of Hillsborough. They bought it to support troops, particularly Ralph’s son-in-law who’s in the Marines.

“It means everything to support the military,” Ralph said.

A military connection also spurred Cliff Hunt, of the Village of Collier, to buy a shirt. His nephew plays in the Marine Corps Band.

“We’re all very supportive of our military,” Hunt said.

The League is trying to spread the practice of RED shirt Friday, first to the other two stores in The Villages, then to the rest of the stores in the district.

Ironically, the man in charge of the RED shirt effort, Beck, didn’t serve in the armed forces. He said he came close to joining the Marines, but found that as an electrician, he was in a protected position. 

He joined the Marine Corps League, which is open to veterans of all services as well as non-veterans, in The Villages.

“So it took me until I was 70 years old until I was sworn in,” he said. The tradition of wearing red shirts to support deployed troops began in the mid-2000s. It got a boost in 2006 when Canadians wore them to show their support for their troops. It has spread throughout North America since then. The Villages detachment has sold more than 5,000 shirts since they started selling them in 2017.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response,” said Nathan Pratt, commandant of the detachment.

“It’s very gratifying to see people so supportive of all military services.”

Senior writer Steve Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or steve.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.

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