On this Veterans Day 2020, observances will be held across Northwest Florida.
The annual celebration in Pensacola will feature the unveiling of a new monument at Veterans Memorial Park, and a very special guest will do the honors.
“The guest speaker is Woody Williams, who is a World War II veteran, who is also one of only two surviving WW II veterans who were also recipients of the Medal of Honor,” said Jill Hubbs, a member of the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation Board and keynote speaker for this year’s Veterans Day ceremony, which will begin at 11 o’clock. As always, this day is observed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Guest of honor, Hershel “Woody” Williams fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions there 1945 by President Harry Truman. In more recent times, he’s worked tirelessly to highlight the sacrifices of others.
“He has been on a mission for the last, maybe dozen years of his life, to honor the families of the fallen, and has gone all over the United States. He established a foundation and he has place memorials all over the United States for Gold Star families,” stated Hubbs.
“We are dedicating the 75th one on Veterans Day right there at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola. And, it will be very special to hear him speak about it.”
“We the American people throughout history have had those among us who are willing to serve a cause greater than themselves, yet realizing that such service to protect our way of life may require sacrifices honored by this memorial monument,” declared 97-year-old Williams, speaking Saturday at the unveiling of the 74th memorial in Tampa.
“We know this memorial will not ease the pain or the heartache or the grief. But, perhaps it will serve as solace and peace to the loved ones who gave one of their own for all of us.”
Williams is expected to make similar remarks in Pensacola, with this community’s Gold Star families, Hubbs’ included, in attendance.
“I am the proud Gold Star daughter of Cmdr. Donald Richard Hubbs, who was a Navy pilot who is still missing in Vietnam,” she proclaimed.
She said it was a special honor for her to participate because she feels like the monument honors her mother and grandmother.
“My grandmother lost her oldest son in World War II in Okinawa; he was an Army Lieutenant. My mom, she lost her husband, my dad. You know, they were always kind of the unsung heroes,” she explained.
According to Hubbs, a group of veterans stepped up to lead the effort to make Pensacola’s Gold Star Families Memorial a reality.
She says it’s been a two-year journey to recognize the many such families in the area, raise the $110,000 needed to fund the project, and decide what should be represented on the panels of the monument, which is made of black granite from India.
“The front of the monument is the same everywhere,” Hubbs said of the memorial’s design.
“But, the back, each committee decides what they’re going to represent. Ours represents our community. When you look at the back panels, you’ll see a scene out at Ft. Barrancas, the water tower at the beach and the Blue Angels. You’ll also see Barrancas National Cemetery and some other things that you’ll recognize.”
When the monument is revealed to the public, it will be another major step in Hubbs’ personal journey as a Gold Star daughter. Years ago, she connected with others like her and each year on Father’s Day they come together to honor their dads.
“They were all serving our nation, along with thousands of others, answering the call to duty in the Vietnam War,” said Hubbs, narrating her documentary film, “They Were Our Fathers,” which is available for viewing at wsre.org.
Now the general manager of the local public TV station, she talked about those men whose lives were cut short, leaving behind their families and friends to grieve their loss, and their children to grow up without their dads.
“I want to share their stories, because their stories are also my story. We all lost our fathers in the Vietnam War. We’re very proud of our dads and their service and it’s very important to all of us and to our nation that they are never forgotten, that they’re sacrifices are remembered and honored.”
After Hubbs’ keynote remarks, Williams, Medal of Honor recipient and the man behind the Gold Star Families Memorial project, will make a short speech and then unveil the Pensacola monument.
“Then, all of the Gold Star families, and I think they’re probably about 25 families who are going to place a rose at the base of this monument and say the name of their loved one,” she said of the program. “And, that is how the whole event will end, which seems like a very fitting way to end.”
The ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park on Bayfront Parkway will be the first official event to be held there this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Socially distanced seating will be available and masks are encouraged.
The 11 o’clock service will follow Pensacola’s annual Veterans Day Parade, which begins at 10, downtown.
Elsewhere across the region, Santa Rosa has cancelled its annual observance in Milton. However, American Legion Post 75 will hold an 11 o’clock ceremony at the Memorial Wall in downtown Crestview.
In Fort Walton Beach, the Veterans Tribute Tower at Beal Memorial Cemetery will host an event that will be live-streamed on their Facebook page. The guest speaker will be General (Ret) Carter Ham, United States Army, President of the Association of the United States Army.
A Veterans Day celebration will take place at 3 p.m. at the Harborwalk Village in Destin. It will feature historical remembrance and recognition of all branches of the services, patriotic entertainment, and vintage flyover air show.