More than 300 people gathered for a solemn purpose Wednesday morning during the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans’ Memorial Park of The Villages. Veterans from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and other conflicts stood proudly during the ceremony as an adoring community lavished loud applause upon them. It was especially a poignant morning for two Marines who served in World War II — Larry Klairmont, 94, of the Village of Harmeswood of Belle Aire, and Bob Beale, 95, of the Village of Hadley. “I’m here so I can cry for my comrades who are not with us, and to appreciate the honor people here bestowed upon us for the sacrifices that we made to serve our country,” said Klairmont, who earned two Silver Star medals, a Bonze Star and two Purple Hearts during the second landing at the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
The ongoing outpouring of support from the community inspires Beale to attend the memorial park’s annual ceremonies.
“I’m always impressed with The Villages, because it’s a patriotic community,” said Beale, who shot at Japanese kamikaze pilots as a 40mm gun loader onboard the USS Bennington aircraft carrier. “They appreciate and respect veterans, which makes me feel very good.”
That service explained why Don Hoover, of the Village of Glenbrook, thanked the two Marines for their service.
Hoover served as an Army combat assault helicopter pilot in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War, at the same time his wife, Carolyn, served as an Air Force logistician in Thailand.
“You guys set the standard,” Hoover told Klairmont and Beale.
It’s all about that generation’s service during one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history, Hoover explained.
“The standard is the World War II veteran, and the sacrifices of all of those Americans,” he said.
It also was a poignant time for Lorene Wilson, as tears welled in her eyes as she gazed upon the memorial brick placed on behalf of her late husband, Jackie B. Wilson, as part of the annual ceremony.
Neighbor Wendy Galiardi, of the Village of Duval, bought the brick for Wilson the same time she purchased one in memory of her father, Paul Stith.
“When Wendy said she was putting a brick in for my husband next to her father, I said ...,” and she paused as tears flowed. “Oh, my God, I’m doing it again. I just thanked her and thanked her, again and again.”
Everyone who attended also heard inspiring words from Vietnam War veteran and retired Army Col. Harry Lumpkin, of the Village of Hadley. He spoke about the positive influence of veterans on society and the importance to recognize their contributions.
Lumpkin shared his observations from a few years ago, when Vietnam War veterans gathered for a commemoration at the Spanish Springs town center for a parade. Residents showered them with adoration.
“Tears were rolling from their eyes,” he said.
It also was joy on Lumpkin’s face at the ceremony’s conclusion, when he handed out 100 thank-you cards to veterans from children at The Villages Charter School.
“Of all the things going on in America, there is one thing that does not divide us — our veterans,” Lumpkin told the audience.
“What an event!” exclaimed Tom Miller, of the Village of Duval, and president of the Veterans’ Memorial Park of The Villages, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“I’m amazed at the turnout,” said Miller, a who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart as an Army combat radio operator during the Vietnam War. “This community honors veterans so much that they’re willing to come out in iffy weather, wearing masks, just to honor veterans in this community.”
Specialty Editor David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or firstname.lastname@example.org.