Mill Creek's Dave Daily hopes to represent all soldiers in Sunday's event.
Dave Daily tells his soldier's story, and it's quite obvious a person would have needed to be standing next to him to fully understand his experience.
He was 40 years old in 2003, an Army Reserve first sergeant who had been deployed to Balad, Iraq to serve with the 196th Transportation Company. He left his wife, Rhonda, and two daughters, Kerstin (now 29) and Keeley (now 24) behind in the United States because he had taken an oath to serve his country.
In Balad, the 196th Transportation Company had taken over an abandoned Iraqi Air Force base, and since it was in shambles, Daily and his fellow soldiers lived in tents during the year of his deployment. Considering the temperatures soared well over 110 degrees, that would have been enough of a hardship.
On a July night, Daily and about 25 of his fellow soldiers were sitting between two tents to watch a movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Despite the stifling heat, it promised to be a night of laughter.
"Then 50 yards away a mortar hit," Daily said. "We all hit the ground.
"That July, Balad started taking mortar fire. Each platoon had dug bunkers covered with sandbags and everyone would jump into them when we were attacked. We were attacked three to four times a week, randomly."
While the experience had to be terrifying, his next statement was particularly hard to fathom.
"After a week of it, you get used to it," he said. "The first few scare you, then you come to the realization that there is nothing you can do if a mortar or a rocket lands on you. It doesn't control what you are doing, or your actions."
On Sunday, May 19, in Lakewood Ranch, Mill Creek's Daily will ride in the Tribute to Heroes Parade down Lakewood Main Street as its grand marshal. Although Daily insists there are more deserving soldiers to be so honored, he said he is humbled and proud.
His selection, while having to do with his work for Braden River VFW Post 12055 along with his 24 years of Army Reserve duty, is a reflection of his own summation of every solider who defends his country.
"Everyone who raises their right hand and swears an oath to this country is important," he said.
Daily, 56, grew up in Steetor, Ill. His father, John Daily, was an Army sergeant who was deployed to Vietnam.
"I could remember he had a photo album with pictures from Vietnam," Dave Daily said. "I would go through it. Service was in our family and something my dad talked about. My grandfather, John Daily Sr., was in the Navy in World War II."
He was taught to honor and respect those who had served, and those messages always were delivered during Memorial Day, July 4 and Veterans Day parades.
"The small towns in Illinois were vibrant then," he said. "Gallatin County, along the Ohio River, was made up of small, farming communities. What I remember during all those parades were the uniforms, seeing the medals. It was impactful for me.
"But as I got older, the parades were getting smaller. It breaks my heart that we could lose that part of our heritage."
This year's 10th Tribute to Heroes Parade has changed all that in the Lakewood Ranch area.
The parade celebrates and honors veterans, who can ride in the parade or watch from special VIP tented areas.
"I think it is awesome how our community comes together for this parade," Daily said. "To see it evolve, I can't thank the community enough."
Daily joined the Army Reserve in 1980 when he was a 17-year-old junior at Johnston City High School in Illinois. At the time, he thought it was a way to get his career started with training (he signed with the personnel and administration battalion in Marion, Ill.) and money once he completed his six-year enrollment. Of course, he extended his career over 20 years and only got about because he was worried about his wife and what might happen to her if he was killed during another deployment.
He still has a file he kept of his orders, evaluations, training, deployments and awards he compiled over the years.
"The military has a funny way of losing stuff," he said.
Daily, who has worked for Universal Stenciling & Marking Systems of St. Petersburg for 25 years, retired from the service in August of 2004. Although he was deployed twice, he said those difficult times away from the family made his relationship with his wife even stronger.
"Rhonda and I have been married for 34 years and the first thing I want to say is that was the best thing I have done in my life. She still is excited when I come home (from work) every day.
"When I was deployed, my wife was an incredible trooper. She did a phenomenal job because while I was gone, every appliance except the microwave broke, her car died, and my truck died. She took care of replacements and maintenance and she didn't while or cry. Our lives have to go on, and she made it happen."
He said all soldiers face changes when they return from a deployment.
"The risk of dying changes a person," he said. "It changes the way you look at life, and what you think is important. I am a hard worker, but when I got back, my family, my children, my wife, were the most important things to me. You prioritize things."
One of the things he prioritized was helping veterans in need through the VFW, where he joined in 2006 as one of the charter members.
"Our goal was to make an impact in the community of east Bradenton," he said. "Our whole mission was to make a difference. We don't have a big building, because if we did we would have to open a bar to pay for it. We just wanted to give back to the community."
He was commander of the post for four years and now works as an adjutant, who takes care of the post's paperwork.
The post helps veterans obtain medical necessities, such as scooters, or repair their homes when they had storm damage or an air conditioner that quits. They donate $1,000 every quarter to the nonprofit Turning Points, which houses homeless veterans. The post donated seven $1,000 scholarships to graduates seniors at Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools who were in the JROTC programs.
"He's done it all in the post," said fellow VFW member Gill Ruderman. "He is a true patriot. You can't turn him off when he thinks there is something that needs to be done."
Daily knows his fellow veterans all have experienced life as a soldier, where mortars and rockets are all part of the routine.
"Veterans all have stood up for this country, where I am blessed to wake up every day and am not worried my kids are going to be hurt," Daily said. "But I do hope there never is another conflict. I don't want anyone to go through the things I and others have gone through."