Local residents and veterans gathered at Veterans’ Memorial Park of The Villages on Thursday to honor those who have served with a poignant ceremony of prayer, music and remembrance. This recognized the sacrifices of many people in the community, as nearly 21,000 veterans call The Villages home, or one in six residents, and they account for 16.8% of its population. The ceremony featured the Veterans’ Memorial Park Honor Guard, led by Cmdr. Peggy Campbell, and The Villages Sounds of Scotland bagpipers performed several songs before the Col. Phillip C. DeLong Marine Corps League Detachment 1267 presented its color guard and the Tri-County Women Veterans presented the service flags. Navy veteran Sue Roper, president of the Tri-County Women Veterans, said it felt awesome to see a large crowd at the event and she was proud that the flags were presented by women veterans. “It’s great to see everyone out here in their military attire,” the Village of Bonita resident said, gesturing to the crowd where many veterans wore their uniforms or hats with their service branch. “And it’s always good to recognize veterans.” A.J. Welch, of the Village of Virginia Trace, is a member of several veterans groups and said events like these are important. “It helps everyone remember and never forget,” said Welch, an Army veteran who flew helicopters in the Vietnam War. U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) spoke at the event and told the crowd that true heroes are not on television, playing sports or in movies, but the men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces. “In my lifetime I’ve been in many difficult and different kinds of situations, some of them I’d consider humbling and heartwarming,” Webster said. “But there’s none that inspires me more than a service and celebration like this, because we get to celebrate people who lived lives of selflessness, giving themselves to protecting this nation.” Tom Miller, president and chaplain of Veterans’ Memorial Park of The Villages, prayed over the new memorial bricks at the park, which were dedicated at the end of the ceremony. He said the park now has 14,000 bricks that honor veterans, and he felt privileged to be in the company of so many veterans from The Villages and surrounding communities. “It is important to honor our veterans,” said Miller, an Army veteran. “We have to realize every veteran signed a contract to give everything, including their life, to this country. It’s very important to realize that veterans are the reasons we have freedom. It’s because of what veterans sacrificed.” Carmine Micena, of the Village of Lake Deaton, is a Navy Seabees veteran and served in World War II. He and his wife, Katherine, enjoyed the ceremony. “It’s (so) emotional,” Carmine said. To learn more about how to purchase a brick commemorating a veteran, search for Veterans’ Memorial Park on districtgov.org.
Staff Writer Rachel Stamford can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or firstname.lastname@example.org.