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World War II veterans sought for Spirit of ‘45 recognition

By CJ HADDAD - | Jul 27, 2021

cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com

World War II veterans will again be honored locally as part of a nationwide effort to remember those members of the “Greatest Generation” with the deadline to take part fast approaching.

Organizers are still seeking additional World War II veterans to salute.

Observed each year on Aug. 14 and celebrated the second weekend of that month, Spirit of ’45 Day is timed to coincide with the anniversary of Aug. 14, 1945, the day President Harry Truman announced the war was over.

Spirit of ’45 Lee County Chair Eryka Aptaker created the local take on this nationwide initiative after a networking event in Naples more than a decade ago when she heard someone speak on the Spirit of ’45.

She immediately wanted to join forces.

Year after year, the event blossomed until last year’s pandemic halted the celebration. Aptaker said this year might just be the last year for the local Spirit of ’45 event, due to dwindling numbers of veterans who served more than 75 years ago. In prior years, Aptaker was able to host large celebrations with nearly 100 World War II vets.

“Meeting these wonderful men and women of our greatest generation has been an honor and a privilege, however, it also comes with sadness in losing so many of these men and women over the years,” she said. “Every year, I never know if this will be the last year that I am going to be able to hold this event.

Receiving calls from new World War II veterans last year left Aptaker with the feeling that she still hadn’t gotten word of this initiative out far enough. She feels that more veterans are still out there who may not has heard of this initiative to honor them.

“This initiative will have an expiration date, as our World War II vets are passing at such a rapid rate,” Aptaker said. “That doesn’t mean that I can’t do everything in my power to keep it going for as long as I can. I would like to see every person who knows a World War II veteran refer them to me to attend this event.”

This year’s event holds a special meeting, as it will be in honor of the 75th and 76th anniversaries. She is hopeful that any area World War II veterans who have not attended the event in past years, as well as previous participants, will take part in what many call a moving ceremony.

“Please don’t make this another year where family members tell me that they wish they would have heard about this while their World War II family member was still alive,” Aptaker said. “It happens too often. Their stories need to be heard and preserved. Their legacy needs to live on.

The 2021 Lee County Spirit of ’45 will be held from 4:15-7:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 8, at Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort, 17260 Harbour Pointe Drive in Fort Myers. The event is free for World War II veterans and spouses of the same generation only. Tickets are $30 per person for all other attendees.

Reservations must be made by Aug. 1, and tickets must be paid by Aug. 4.

Dinner will be served from 4:15-5:45 p.m., followed by a World War II veteran tribute and ceremony from 5:45-7:15 p.m.

The ceremony will include presentation of colors, Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem; POW/MIA service (missing man table), wreath ceremony; World War II veteran guest speakers; flag folding ceremony; pipes and drums to include “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes; honor guard/firing party for three volleys; echo taps and closing speech with patriotic song.

Sponsorships are what make this event possible, and Aptaker also is seeking assistance to ensure the event can take place.

There are two different sponsorship opportunities — business sponsorships that range from $50 to $1,000, or “Sponsor-A-Vet,” for $30.

The business sponsorship provides advertising opportunities in the program, as well as tickets to the dinner and ceremony.

The “Sponsor-A-Vet” program will cover the cost of a veteran’s meal. The sponsor’s name, or the name of a veteran, then will be listed in the program.

Those interested in sponsorship or reservations can call Aptaker at 917-607-4385 or email her at eja3090@comcast.net.

– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj