Florida is home to around 1.6 million military veterans. That’s a point of pride among state officials — who like to say Florida is the “most veteran-friendly state in the nation.”
Florida offers a number of tax breaks and services to veterans — and now a new honor. Governor Rick Scott has created a state medal to recognize their service.
“The freedoms and opportunities that were afforded by the American dream were paid for by the service and sacrifice of our brave veterans,” Scott said. “That’s why it’s so important that we frequently honor and give thanks to our veterans. Our heroes have made countless sacrifices for our Florida families. That’s why we don’t just wait for the holidays to thank our men and women.”
The governor and his wife, Ann, handed out 136 of service awards at the Baldomero-Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O’Lakes after a brief ceremony.
Scott made a special point to highlight Sgt. First Class Angel Torres-Mendez calling him up before the crowd to place the service award around his neck. Torres-Mendez served 27 years in the military from 1947 to 1974 including three years in Vietnam as a Green Beret accomplishing 18 special missions, many of them solo.
Well after the dignitaries had gone, Torres-Mendez still proudly wore his medal over his plaid cotton shirt.
“Very few people really know what I have done,” Torres-Mendez said adding that it was “not easy.”
Yet, he would serve again – today if he could.
“Every day I watch the news to see if we get involved with Syria because I wish I could go back on this,” he said.
Despite his long and distinguished military career, Torres-Mendez said the hardest thing he’s ever done was to bury his wife after more than 49 years of marriage.
Although he didn’t have his wife to share in the honors — many family members did come to witness as the governor and his wife distributed the medals to veterans who live there and to veterans who serve on the staff. In all, the governor’s staff said he handed out 136 medals at the Land O’Lakes home.
You can view a portion of the ceremony:
You can listen to the radio version of this story that aired on WUSF 89.7 FM Public Radio.