Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Return with honor

  • By
  • | 5:00 a.m. November 7, 2013
  • Sarasota
  • News
  • Share

Robert Kay
Marine Corps and Army/Afghanistan

"Take advantage of what’s out there so that you can do something fulfilling with the rest of your life.”

Kay, 49, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1982 to 1986, and then served as a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard from 2007 to 2013. He deployed to Afghanistan on a 10-month tour in 2011 as an intelligence collector.

Kay was a Marine when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was destroyed in a terrorist attack in 1993; 241 U.S. servicemen, including 220 Marines, were killed.

“We were incensed by Beirut, but could never do anything about that anger,” Kay said. “I always wondered how I would do in combat.”

His first firefight in Afghanistan gave him his answer.

“I was as calm as I wanted to be, but calmer than I expected to be,” Kay said.

While on a two-week mid-tour leave during his Afghanistan deployment, Kay met his wife and daughter in Germany. The trip inspired a business idea that charted the next chapter of his life.

In April, Kay and his wife Debbie opened Vom Fass — a gourmet shop on Main Street in Sarasota that sells culinary oils and vinegars, liquors, wines, brandies and whiskeys from around the world.

Vom Fass, located at 1469 Main St., will offer special discounts to U.S. military veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Michael Richardson
Air Force/Vietnam

"There is a common set of values and ethics throughout the military community that is hard to find in the civilian world.”

Richardson, 73, is a graduate of the University of Omaha and received his commission through the Air Force ROTC program.   He trained as a navigator-bombardier/weapon systems operator and spent approximately 15 years in flying-related positions — crewing in the T-29C/D, the F-111A, the B-57G, the OV-10A and the C-130.

He is a distinguished graduate of both the Air Force’s Squadron Officers School and the Navy’s Command and Staff College.

 “I was always impressed by leaders who could blend taking care of the job at hand with taking care of their people,” Richardson said.

Richardson is uplifted by the treatment of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There might be people who disagree with military actions, but they can separate their opinions about the wars from their opinions about the troops. We didn’t have that separation in the Vietnam era,” Richardson said.

Richardson now serves as president of the recently formed Sarasota-Manatee chapter of the Air Force Association (AFA), which will participate in Monday’s Veterans Day parade in downtown Sarasota.

Harold Ronson
Navy/World War II

"When you’ve got a gun in your hand in combat you can’t be selfish. You can’t always do what you want to do; sometimes you do what has to be done.”

Ronson, 87, served in the Navy as a seaman second class aboard Landing Craft Infantry 1012 in World War II. He participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima — a 36-day battle in 1944 that resulted in 26,000 U.S. casualties, including 6,800 deaths.

“In my senior years, I’ve started to reflect a lot on what I did,” Ronson said. “But during my life I mostly tried to put it all behind me.”

Ronson grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946. He chose the Navy on the advice of his older brother, an Army Ranger in World War II, to stay out of the infantry.

But, Ronson ultimately served in some of the bloodiest and fiercest fights of the war, including the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Ronson said the combat on Okinawa was the most frightening experience of the war. He recalled an instance when a torpedo launched from a Japanese dive-bomber passed directly under the landing craft he was on, exploding just seconds later on a nearby beach. That happened April 12, 1945 — the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died and Ronson’s 19th birthday.

“The air attacks were terrible on Okinawa,” Ronson said. “Every night as the sun was setting, out of the sun would come these kamikazes.”

Ronson went to college on the G.I. Bill and worked in the textile industry. He said his military experiences shaped his personality and work ethic for the rest of his life.

“My experience in the military drove me to work hard and to achieve my goals,” said Ronson.
Ronson lives on Longboat Key.

Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]