For much of our lives, the nation's soldiers are out of sight and mind.
It's just the way it is because we are busy, and as one current soldier told me, it is the way it should be.
He reasoned that he serves so that U.S. citizens don't have to worry about the problems happening around the world.
That all changes on patriotic holidays, when our soldiers come front and center, and Memorial Day is one of those.
With Memorial Day approaching, Lakewood Ranch Community activities is hosting the Tribute to Heroes Concert 5-7 p.m. May 22 at the Greenbrook Adventure Park in Lakewood Ranch. The concert is a replacement for the Tribute to Heroes Parade, which commonly is held on Memorial Day weekend. The parade had to be cancelled because Lakewood Ranch Community Activities felt the safety of the community, due to the pandemic, was still in question when it came to squeezing thousands of people along Lakewood Main Street.
The Tribute to Heroes Parade always has honored those who have died during their service to the country, but it also honored our soldiers in general along with serving as a fundraiser for local veterans groups.
If you agree that our soldiers are out of sight most of the time, veterans groups are even more so. They toil away in relative obscurity for most of the year, mostly relying on those patriotic holidays to generate funds for their causes. That reliance was dealt a blow last year when the pandemic forced cancellation of the parade.
It was a repeat this year, until Lakewood Ranch Community Activities decided to try a live concert. If you are undecided whether to attend the Tribute to Heroes Concert, I thought I would provide a few reasons to go. Money raised (beer sales, parking) from the event benefits VFW Post 12055 Braden River and the Del Webb Association of Veterans and Military Supporters.
Unless you are involved in those groups, I doubt you know much about what they do. Let's start with the Del Webb group.
Del Webb's Jerry Hufford, a former Air Force sergeant who served as a "hurricane hunter" out of Biloxi, Mississippi, now heads the organization. He told me the organization is a "cornerstone member "of Southeastern Guide Dogs, which provides support and guide dogs for veterans.
The Del Webb group also provides support for Manasota Operation Troop Support, a nonprofit that serves military troops deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait who have ties to Manatee and Sarasota counties. That support could be funding or through labor.
Last year, Del Webb Association of Veterans and Military Supporters raised $23,000, mostly through events in its community, to send gift cards to families at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Hufford explained they help approximately 200 families at MacDill where the soldiers hold lesser ranks with lower incomes. Usually gift cards and baskets are provided, but with the pandemic, the donation was limited to gift cards this year.
That was with the exception of a partnership with the Lakewood Ranch's Winn Dixie, which delivered 200 turkeys to the base.
Del Webb Association of Veterans and Military Supporters has 214 members, but only about 25% of those are veterans. The rest are residents who simply want to support the veterans.
VFW Post 12055 Braden River also is busy.
Included in its work were donations to Meals on Wheels Plus Manatee, quarterly donations of $1,000 to Turning Points to assist homeless veterans, sponsorship of a Lakewood Ranch Little League team, raising the flag at Braden River High football games, donations to Toys-For-Tots, and placing wreaths on headstones at Sarasota National Cemetery,
Braden River High seniors Selah Swanson and Olivia Townsend, and Lakewood Ranch High seniors Hannah Ramsden and Bailey Hoppe each received a $1,000 scholarship from the VFW this month. All four seniors are members of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
Both organizations will have a late member honored at the concert. Dennis Merriman, one of the founders of VFW Post 12055, died March 14. He earned a Purple Heart among many other medals while serving with the Army's 187th Airborne Paratroopers Division in North Korea.
Richard Albero, who was a member of the Del Webb Association of Veterans and Military Supporters, died March 17, 2020. He is known for his altruism and for completing a 1,200-mile walk from Tampa to New York to raise $56,000 for the Wounded Warrior project.
If this stirs your interest, you can reserve a ticket at lwrca.org. Tickets are free for Lakewood Ranch residents and $10 for non-residents.