POINCIANA – On July 1 in Poinciana, two remarkably diverse generations of veterans will stand shoulder to shoulder, paying tribute to those who, like them, bravely stepped forward in defense of this nation.
Val Ramos, commander of the Poinciana Veterans Club, knows that veterans today are not necessarily retirees like himself, living in retirement communities in Poinciana. Many veterans today, he noted, are in their 20s and early 30s, and are returning to Central Florida after being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have veterans here who have returned home from Iraq,” Ramos said. “With Operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan), it’s a little harder, because most of them are deployed right now.”
On the other hand, in a community like Solivita — an adult community with plenty of retirees — there are still some veterans living there who served in World War II – though not many, Ramos added.
“Our veterans from World War II, they’re really up there in age now, and there are not many left,” Ramos said. “In fact, in Poinciana I know only two, and one of them is 95.”
On Friday, July 1, veterans of every U.S. war will be invited to attend a special Independence Day Celebration, starting at 11 a.m. at the Poinciana Veterans Memorial, which is in front of the Association of Poinciana Villages office at 401 Walnut St. This event originated on May 28, 2004, and had been held every year since, as a tribute to those who fought in America’s wars.
“In our ceremony, we try to have one veteran representing each war,” Ramos said. “So far we have ascertained veterans from World War II all the way to the Iraq War.”
Each year, the ceremony gives special recognition to one war, and the veterans who served in it. Jeanette Coughenour, manager of the APV, which is the homeowner’s association for Poinciana’s 10 villages, said two years ago they put the spotlight on the Vietnam War and had the Moving Wall at the Veterans Memorial. Last year, the focus was on the Korean War.
This year, the ceremony looks back on World War II, she said, a war that defined an entire generation in the 1940s.
“You would be hard pressed to find somebody here who doesn’t have someone in their family who has been in some war,” Coughenour said. “Somebody has served at some point in the military.”
As a popular retirement community, Solivita has a lot of veterans living there, said Bob Harris, commander of the Veterans Club of Solivita.
“We have a couple of World War II veterans here in Solivita,” he said. “We do our own July 4 ceremony with a flag raising and some commentary.”
That ceremony will be held on Independence Day at Freedom Park in Solivita, starting at 9 a.m.
The Veterans Club of Solivita will also be taking part in the July 1 ceremony, which starts at 11 a.m., Harris said.
“We will be participating with them,” Harris said. “I’m trying to coordinate something now.”
“The whole community is invited —the business community, the residential community law enforcement,” Coughenour said. “It’s a neat thing we started eight years ago, and annually we’ve been doing it on the Fourth of July weekend to ensure we involve the entire community.”
The APV also invites local school students to attend the ceremony, Coughenour said, so they can learn about the wars that shaped this nation in the past, as well as the wars still being waged today in the Middle East.
“I think it’s especially important to our young people to make that connection – what war is about, and why we do these things,” she said. “We like to make sure our kids get that kind of exposure.”
Ramos agreed, saying this special ceremony puts a different focus on the meaning of Independence Day. It’s not about a day off from work, or fireworks, or cook outs, he said — the kind of things people tend to associate Independence Day with, more so than honoring veterans.
“The one thing that we try to sort of communicate to everybody is the freeodm we support on the Fourth isn’t really free,” he said. “It’s paid for in our veterans’ blood. It’s more than just fireworks.”
After the speaking program, lunch will be served to everyone attending the ceremony, Coughenour said.
“We serve up hot dogs, soda and chips for everyone,” she said. “The kids enjoy it, and it’s kind of neat. “
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