POINCIANA – At age 73, Bob Harris thinks returning veterans don’t always get the attention they deserve for the dedication they’ve shown defending this nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also believes the news media don’t devote nearly enough attention to the tragic deaths of soldiers fighting those wars.
“As a veteran, yes, that’s how I feel,” said Harris, who lives in Solivita, the adults only development in Poinciana. “As a citizen, I think it depends on what area you live in, and how the war is perceived. A lot of people might feel like we shouldn’t be over there. But I can remember coming back from Vietnam, when people spit on you.”
Fernando Valverde, who is also a veteran, said he too is disturbed by the lack of attention given to the mounting death count in those two wars.
“Unfortunately what is happening is the enemy is bleeding us slowly,” he said.
Valverde and Harris are both members of the Veterans Club of Solivita. It’s an organization that works to help today’s young veterans, and to highlight the work that they do, the club is hosting a special birthday celebration on July 16 – to mark the 10-year-anniversary of when the club first got organized.
The celebration will be held on that Saturday afternoon in the Solivita Ballroom, with live entertainment and plenty of patriotism on display. Tickets for the event cost $10.
Solivita is on the Polk County side of Poinciana, and is billed as an “active adults” community for retirees. As Harris noted, the club came together because it was obvious from the start that so many of the people moving in there had served in the military.
“Most people who move into Solivita are veterans,” said Harris, the club’s commander.
The club has stayed active over the years, giving away three annual scholarships to students in Poinciana and Haines City for $1,000 each, supporting local ROTC programs, and taking part in memorial celebrations.
“We do quite a bit in the community,” Harris said. “We’re pretty active in the things we do.”
They even have a special program that helped the troops using tennis balls. The Veterans Club of Solivita collected more than 1,680 tennis balls last year, all to help American troops connect with Afghan kids and their parents. It was part of a special Veterans Club’s program called Support Our Troops, designed to collect donated goods that can be sent to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Last year, the club collected tennis balls to build a sense of trust between American soldiers and villagers in Afghanistan. The tennis balls were sent to American soldiers to be given to the local children as a toy or gift. The request for the tennis balls came from the U.S. Air Force’s Chaplain Corps, which reached out to veterans’ groups with the idea.
Support our Troops initially started out sending the soldiers letters written by local school students, Boy Scouts, and children in church programs.
The club members then began collecting other items that could be sent to the soldiers, including soap, combs, toiletry items, jump ropes, and small, inexpensive toys – any item the soldiers could distribute to villagers.
“Fernando was very instrumental in that,” Harris said. “He spearheaded the Support the Troops program and we sent the tennis balls overseas.”
Those are some proud accomplishments to look back on, Harris said.
“We’ve been very well received by the community,” he said. “Now we’re coming up on our 10-year-anniversary, and we will be celebrating on July 16 and having birthday cake and ice cream.”
There should be a lot of people celebrating at this event: the club has more than 240 members, Harris said.
“We will have a big ceremony that day,” he promised.
Freeline Media contributor Dave Raith, 24, who grew up in Poinciana and has served in the Marines, said he often spends time at the nearest VFW club talking with retired veterans who have a wealth of information to share with the younger generation of armed services enlistees.
“Anybody who has served in the military should have a modicum of respect,” Raith said. “I have a couple of friends who served in Vietnam. When you speak to people who have gone to war and served before you, they know the feelings you have. I would recommend talking to those people.”
Harris also hopes the event prompts people to remember the young men and women now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, risking their own lives to defend America’s democratic values.
“I am a patriot,” he said. “I try to show my support for veterans. I have a deeper appreciation than someone who hasn’t been there.”
To learn more about the Veterans Club, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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