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FWB Honors Veterans Day With New Tribute Tower

Danielle Freeman

  The annual Veterans Day ceremony in Fort Walton Beach was held Wednesday at Beal Memorial Cemetery. It was the first official observance to be held around the new Veterans Tribute Tower at the entrance to the cemetery.  

“Ladies and Gentleman…the ringing of the new Tribute Tower and the stroke of the eleven bells.”

The sound of the Freedom Bell rang out as part of the ceremony. Dozens of veterans from World War II to Desert Storm to the Global War on Terror were gathered around the flag pole and the new Tribute Tower where they were recognized for their service.

This year’s guest speaker was retired Air Force Lt. General Mike Wooley, former Commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field and currently the Chairman of the Air Commando Association, Today our warriors from Iraq, Afghanistan, the other locations that the war on terror takes our men and women in uniform, return home to the recognition that they deserve.”

Lt. General Wooley says over the years, throughout an assortment of global conflicts, Veterans Day has changed.  Wooley points to the more festive atmosphere after World War II to the quiet that marked the Korean War, also known as The Forgotten War. And, he notes the protests that represented a deeply divided country after the Vietnam War.  However, today General Wooley says Veterans Day has return to a day of remembrance for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, “Our society has evolved. It has evolved our perception of veterans and is now able to separate the politics of war from its participants. In many ways Veterans Day has become less quite and more grand as represented by this grand bell before us today. We stand among the final resting place of American heroes. And, we’re reflecting on what they have done for our nation and we celebrate each of our veterans in our own special way.”

Adding his appreciation for the area’s veterans was state Senator Don Gaetz. Gaetz praised the efforts of those who helped create the special place where this and many future Veteran’s Day ceremonies will take place, “Thanks to your generosity. Thanks to the great leadership of Bill and Tom and others that bell is now fixed in place in this Veterans Tribute Tower rising as a symbol of hope and gratitude, every day, and every year. That’s the message of Veterans Day from the state of Florida and this community to every veteran and to every veteran’s family.”

A momentous part of this year’s ceremony also included the dedication of the Veterans Tribute Tower by Reverend Eric Zubler of St. Simon’s Episcopal Church. Fittingly, the words “Take Time to Remember” adorn the face of the tower’s clock.

Emceeing the ceremony was Tom Rice, a retired US Army First Sgt. and member of the Veterans Tribute Tower Committee. Rice says the idea of raising a quarter million dollars for the Tribute Tower was a scary notion in the beginning, but he says it was well worth the time and effort to see the project completed in time to honor our veterans today and for years to come, “Having the bell done over a year ago on 9/11 that was a big step forward to finish this project. We’ve been gathering here at this site for 20 years that I’ve been helping with the ceremonies and about 35 years. This is a golden opportunity to enhance the cemetery and salute the veterans at the same time. Twenty years ago we had about a thousand veterans buried here. Today, the JR ROTC from FWB High School placed over 1650 flags, that’s quite an increase.”  

Florida is home to about 1.6 million veterans. At the ceremony, family, friends, and community members honored veterans by placing flowers at the flagpole near the main entrance. The ceremony also included a rifle volley by the Ft. Walton Beach Police Department Honor Guard and the ceremonial playing of Taps by the 96th Air Base Honor Guard, as well as a fly-by as the crowd departed.