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Veterans group at Del Webb in Lakewood Ranch shows its colors

The group would like to see a flag flying in front of every house in the community.


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As Herman Martinez walked through the lobby of the new clubhouse at Del Webb in Lakewood Ranch, he paused for a moment, and pointed to a table, set for one person, in the corner of the room.

Martinez, who is a Del Webb resident and the commander of the Lakewood Ranch Association of Veterans and Military Supporters (AVMS), explained it was a Missing Man Table, which is a place of honor often set up during military functions. It preserves the memory of U.S. soldiers who have fallen in battle or who are missing in action.

He glanced behind the table at a wall, covered with stars.

Stars on the wall at the Del Webb clubhouse represent fallen soldiers who were family members of Del Webb residents.
Stars on the wall at the Del Webb clubhouse represent fallen soldiers who were family members of Del Webb residents.

Each star represented a member of a resident's family who had died in battle.

"We have 38 stars," Martinez said softly.

As Memorial Day approached, Martinez and the 90 members of his group planned to put a flag on the front lawn of every home in Del Webb. That's almost 400 homes this year, and eventually will reach 1,300 homes when Del Webb is built out.

"We would like to see the street full of flags," he said. "We want a flag on every front yard."

AVMS contacted all the members of the Del Webb community and told the homeowners of their desire to plant a flag in every yard. Martinez said not one resident objected.

"My goal is to see other communities pick up the lead," Martinez said. "Our group wants people to remember what Memorial Day is all about. We want them to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We must remember. We must take the time to say a prayer."

Martinez, a former Army sergeant who served in Vietnam, started AVMS on Veteran's Day, 2016. He had put together a tribute to veterans for the holiday and he started asking those who attended whether they would be interested in joining such an organization.

AVMS grew quickly and now Martinez is hoping it spreads through the Lakewood Ranch community so the group's fundraisers can have a larger impact on helping veterans and their family members in need.

He noted non-veterans are welcomed to join. "A lot of civilians have had loved ones in the military," he said. "We want them to be integral contributors."

Thus far, AVMS has contributed goods to Manasota Operation Troop Support, which sends food, gifts and letters of support to deployed soldiers. Last Thanksgiving, the group put together Thanksgiving dinners for veterans and their families in need. Martinez said it is just the beginning.

AVMS has begun an outreach program is working with the veterans administration to identify veterans who need help. "We want them to know we have a shoulder they can lean on," he said.

Several members of AVMS had volunteered to work traffic control at the Tribute to Heroes Parade in Lakewood Ranch that was cancelled May 27 due to Subtropical Storm Alberto.

"We will get really involved with the parade next year," he said.

Memorial Day is a solemn occasion for Martinez, who said he had two of his friends die serving in Vietnam. A member of the First Air Calvary, he has a helicopter gunner for when troops on the ground needed support or when injured soldiers needed to be transported.

The Missing Man Table is set up at the Del Webb clubhouse.
The Missing Man Table is set up at the Del Webb clubhouse.

Born in Medellin, Colombia, Martinez moved to Miami with his family when he was 8. He worked as a child to help feed his family, but he doesn't regret that time.

"What this country allowed me to do was to have the opportunity to succeed in life, and to contribute. The military was a way for me to pay back. I wanted to make a difference."

He eventually forged a law enforcement career with the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

"I am proud to be an American ... by choice," he said. "I will do anything I can to make our country stronger and better."

Martinez said AVMS is close to achieving nonprofit status.

"What we can do is improve the quality of life for our veterans and our residents," he said.