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Local News

Veterans Tribute Tower Makes Its Way To FWB

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Tom Rice
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  The Veterans Tribute Tower will soon make its way from Cincinnati, Ohio to Fort Walton Beach.  The tower’s long journey begins on Saturday. Delivery of the tower is the first of several scheduled events to honor military veterans through November 11th.

The Veterans Tribute Tower has been several years in the making. It was constructed at the Verdin Bell Company’s foundry in Cincinnati. The same company poured and cast the tower’s Freedom Bell using their mobile foundry in September at Uptown Station.

The tower is 30-feet high and weighs 12,000 pounds. It will be securely strapped to a trailer for the journey of over 700 miles, escorted the entire trip by the Patriot Guard Riders, “This Saturday, October 31st they will escort the Veterans Tribute Tower from our factory in Cincinnati to Ft. Walton Beach.”

Bob Santoro is the Marketing Manager for the Verdin Bell Company and says this is the seventh Tribute Tower that has been escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders from the company, “They’ll leave about nine o’clock in the morning eastern time and they’ll travel about 740-miles over two days to deliver the tower. They’ll be joined by riders in five states.”

The Patriot Guard is a pack of riders that arranges motorcyclists for various patriotic events such as welcome home ceremonies and providing escorts for military funerals.

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Credit Danielle Freeman
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New flagpole in Ft. Walton Beach

  Santoro says having the group along is significant and changes what would have been “just a delivery” into a special time for communities to reflect on the sacrifices veterans have made, “We pass through a lot of small communities and big communities and so each time we stop, we’re stopping to give them a chance to fill up, get something to eat, and a lot of times we have veterans or people who know who’s fought in the wars or who’s died and they have a story to tell. And, so they can really grab one of the Patriot Guards or even our driver and kind of help tell that story and feel good. Some people just like to touch the tower and know where it’s going. It really does pass through America and provide an opportunity for people to pay tribute to somebody that they know that’s served.”

A group of eight riders will travel the entire route with the tower while other riders will accompany the tower just through their state. The tower will arrive in FWB on Sunday Nov. 1st with Tribute Tower organizers hosting a welcome party for the riders at 3pm on Sunday afternoon at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7674 on Carol Avenue in FWB.

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Credit Danielle Freeman
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Laying the foundation for the new flagpole and Tribute Tower at BealMemorial Cemetery

  Bob Santoro says over the years the tower’s journey has become just as much a part of the celebration as the tower itself, “As people go by they’ll honk their horns, they’ll give a thumbs up or they’ll take pictures of it. So, it’s kind of fun. It’s a really fun day but, it’s really made possible by all the veterans in the community of Ft. Walton Beach. Without the dedication of the members of the Veterans Tower Memorial committee, without the sponsors and the community it wouldn’t be there. So, it’s nice to see that such a strong community that has a history of committing themselves to veterans it putting together a lasting memorial.”

Tom Rice is an Army Veteran and Vice President of the Tribute Tower Board and says he’s thrilled to see the progression of the tower from conception to completion and excited for the tower’s installation on November 2nd .

Rice says he’s also looking forward to the weeklong celebration beginning with cheerful patriotic music at the “A Salute To Those Who Serve” kickoff event, “The exciting part of this is to try not to make this just a celebration of Veterans Day. But, to make a week of something happening the whole week. Dr. David Ott who is the conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus will put on a free concert at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on the 8th of November, on a Sunday at three o’clock.”

The celebration continues with a Musical Prelude and Sunrise Service led by Chaplain Larry Carter and Rev. Cecil Williams at Beal Memorial Cemetery at 6am on November 11th. At 7:30am the FWB High School JR ROTC will place flags throughout the cemetery while rendering honors. And, at 11am the Veterans Day Ceremony and Dedication of the Veterans Tribute Tower will commence.

Although the tower is constructed, the Tower Board has not stopped their fundraising efforts. Tom Rice says they’ve raised about $265,000 to date, but the goal is to raise another $35,000 to keep in a small repair reserve to maintain the tower, “We’re in the south we know that everything needs a touch of paint once in awhile. And the goal was to not have the tax payers of the city of FWB be saddled with any cost. That this is a gift from fellow veterans to honor veterans, and the city allowed us to build it in the cemetery and it will now belong to the city of FWB.”

Not only will the city of FWB be celebrating the tower but the city of Cincinnati is chiming in for the occasion too. Mayor Cranley of Cincinnati has proclaimed Nov. 11th as “Fort Walton Beach Veterans Tribute Tower Day” in the city. His proclamation will be brought to the tower’s dedication on Veterans Day.

All Veterans Tribute Tower events are open to the public and the community is encouraged to attend and participate in the celebration.