What started three years ago as a dream became reality Sunday, and hundreds of war veterans, dignitaries and even a famous rock star were on hand to witness the event.
The long-awaited Iraq War Monument was dedicated to all who served, were wounded or killed in battle in a moving, standing-room-only ceremony at the Four Mile Cove Eco Park's Veteran's Memorial area, that was made possible with the help of the community and the relentless efforts of those who worked to bring it, one of the first in the nation, to life.
For Michelle Rosenberger, who founded the committee which spearheaded the effort, it was a great day for her, the city and those who fought for our freedom.
The Lost Riders motorcycle group, which rides for charitable causes, poses beside the Iraq War Monument at its dedication ceremony Sunday at Four Mile Cove Eco Park.
"It looks incredible. What an honor it has been to have been on this committee to honor our heroes," Rosenberger said. "I didn't think it would happen this fast, really. We were hoping, but we got it done."
The simple, star-shaped monument with dog tags affixed to the side got done through generous donations and thanks to the Fort Myers Miracle, which allowed them to set up fund-raising at seven games this summer, Rosenberger said.
Among the dignitaries recognized in the hour-long ceremony hosted by Alan Classon were Mayor John Sullivan, Kenneth Korr, VFW District 13 Commander, Xavier Pinero, the student who designed the monument, and blue-star and gold-star parents, the latter of which had children killed in action.
"It's a great thing for our veterans and a great thing for our residents because we had a lot of their participation in this project," Sullivan said. "It was a great effort by the community and it was done without a penny of taxpayer money."
The event included touching moments, including the recognition of Medal of Honor awardees, those killed in action and veterans, the laying of the wreath by the Cape Coral Fore Department Honor Guard, and the playing of "Taps" by bugler Richard Osman.
Jeff Rousey, a sergeant major in the U.S. Army and an Iraq combat veteran, told a story about his days in Vietnam when his brother thought he was dead and convinced his commander to find his unit, which he did.
"My commander made me talk to my little brother. It was my best day while in the service," Rousey said. "This monument gives me a special feeling. Veterans can come here for closure."
It also included rousing renditions of the anthems of each military branch by the Blue Dirt Dixie Band and the singing of "God Bless America" by Mickey Thomas, lead singer from the band Starship, who played at the Coconut Festival on Saturday.
"The organizers reached out to us through my agent and they asked if I would be involved and I said I'd be honored," Thomas said. "I really like that they're calling this a monument and not a memorial. We have a friend on the monument who was wounded in 2004. He made it through and living in Colorado and we got his name on it."
After the ceremony, veterans and others had their pictures taken alongside the monument, while others examined the dog tags on the monument.
"I think the ceremony was excellent and the monument looks wonderful," said Josh Burr, Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
"It serves the community by getting the word out to support the family and friends of veterans," said Wellington Orozco, a member of a Cape Coral Reserve Unit. "It's an awesome monument, something we can add to the other monuments. Hopefully they'll add something like EOF and Afghanistan as well."