Sacred Stories And Experiences Shared Among Veterans

WWII veteran and former POW Tracy Taylor was invited to join veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in a gator hunt.

WWII veteran and former POW Tracy Taylor was invited to join veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in a gator hunt.

A 95-year-old World War II POW joined wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans recently for a gator hunt in rural Polk County. But it wasn’t the hunt that made this experience so extraordinary – it was the sharing of stories between the generations that made it special.

There are some things that veterans just don’t feel comfortable talking about, except possibly with another veteran.

That sacred bond, between veterans, can transcend time and different wars – especially among those wounded, disabled or experienced in combat.

Providing a setting that gives veterans a chance to establish those special bonds has become the joint mission of several organizations including the non-profit, community based Wounded Warrior Sportsmen Fund and Operation Outdoor Freedom, a program with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

WWII veteran Tracy Taylor, in the foreground, talked for about an hour with the younger veterans before going on the hunt.

WWII veteran Tracy Taylor, in the foreground, talked for about an hour with the younger veterans before going on the hunt.

In the past year, they’ve sponsored more than 70 hunting, fishing and canoeing trips in Florida for more than 400 wounded veterans.

In December, that included a gator hunt at Lake Hancock. It’s a large lake southeast of Lakeland that’s filled with alligators and surrounded by moss-draped cypress, maple and willow trees.

What made the three-day event extra special was a visit from World War II veteran Jasper G. Taylor, who prefers to be called Tracy.

The 95-year-old veteran survived 3 years, 5 months and 28 days as a prisoner of war in Japan.

“I guess I am, but I’m not, a wounded warrior,” Taylor said as he addressed about a dozen veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “I didn’t have any combat injuries. I don’t have a Purple Heart.”

But he told the younger wounded warriors that maybe he qualified as part of their band because of the abuse he suffered while a POW. Taylor was an Army Air Corps radio operator who was captured after the surrender of Corregidor in the Philippines in May, 1942.

Veterans and volunteers look on as one of the gators is captured and killed on Lake Hancock.

Veterans and volunteers look on as one of the gators is captured and killed on Lake Hancock.

“They couldn’t speak any English and we couldn’t speak Japanese and 90 percent of the time we didn’t understand what they were saying or doing,” Taylor said to the group gathered around a smoldering campfire. “They would enforce their commands with bayonets or anything else.”

Taylor said the POWs were forced to “clean up” Corregidor and then shipped out to an indoctrination camp in Taiwan for weeks and later to Japan where he was forced to work at the Mitsubishi shipyard and later in a copper mine.

“Anybody know anything about the Japanese culture?”  Taylor asked his audience of fresh veteran faces. “Well, every morning they get up and they face the sun, they face east, pledge their allegiance to Emperor of Japan. Well, when we got there we had do the same thing.  The only thing was, all the way down line, the only thing you heard was ‘Go to hell, you son of a b—h. And that kind of made it worthwhile.”

The group laughed at Taylor’s resilient response and at many of his stories that went on for close to an hour.

The three gators from the veterans' hunt.

The three gators from the veterans’ hunt.

Throughout the chat, he routinely sprinkled in a humorous twist or silver lining when describing his life as a POW. For example, Taylor told of convincing the prison camp interrogator that he was a barber instead of a North Carolina farm boy.

“Only hair I ever cut was the mane or the tail on mule or horse,” Taylor said. But he embellished out of necessity to become the prison camp’s barber because he could no longer walk due to malnutrition.

“I wound up with beriberi and was numb from waist down for six months,” Taylor said. “That worked in my favor. I didn’t have to go to the shipyard because I couldn’t walk.”

His weight dropped from 120 to 87 pounds while a POW.

Yet when asked about the abuse he suffered and witnessed, Taylor was sparse with his descriptions. He later shared, privately, that he promised himself a long time ago that he would talk about what happened to him as a POW, but would not talk about the torture because nothing would be gained by it.

It wasn’t all talk. The young veterans and volunteers loaded into ATVs and took Taylor out to “bag” a gator. There were three gators caught and killed.

The veterans ended the morning helping Taylor kneel down to take a photo to remember their successful hunt. The gators were then taken to be processed for their meat and skins which are shared with the veterans afterward.

Veterans from all generations pose for a photo after the successful hunt in December 2015.

Veterans from all generations pose for a photo after the successful hunt in December 2015.

CENTCOM Timeline On Iran’s Seizure of 10 U.S. Sailors

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Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, center, as he briefed news media Jan. 14 during a visit to U.S. Central Command Headquarters in Tampa, FL.

The United States Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, has released a detailed accounting of time behind the Jan. 12 seizure of two U.S. Navy Riverine Command Boats and their crew of 10 buy Iranian forces.

There is still no public reason why the two boats ended up in Iranian waters, the sailors are still being debriefed. But an inventory of the two boats reveals that two SIM cards are missing from the boats’ satellite phones.

  • On Jan. 12, 2016 at 9:23 a.m. (GMT) two NAVCENT Riverine Command Boat (RCB) crews were relocating two boats from Kuwait to Bahrain, with a planned refueling en route alongside the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy.
  • At 2 p.m. (GMT) approximately the two RCBs were scheduled to refuel in international waters.
  • At approximately 2:10 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT received a report that the RCBs were being queried by Iranians.
  • At approximately 2:29 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT was advised of degraded communications.
  • At 2:45 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT was notified of a total loss of communications and an intensive search and rescue operation immediately initiated including aircraft from USS Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Coast Guard, U.K. Royal Navy and U.S. Navy surface vessels. And attempts to reach Iranian forces made.
  • At 6:15 p.m. (GMT), U.S. Navy cruiser USS Anzio received a communication from the Iranians that the RCB Sailors were in Iranian custody and were “safe and healthy.”
  • Jan. 13, 2016 at 8:43 a.m. (GMT), the U.S. sailors departed Iran’s Farsi Island  aboard the two RCBs and later transferred ashore by U.S. Navy aircraft from the cruiser USS Anzio and the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
  • At 10:38 p.m. (GMT), the RCBs arrived in Bahrain at 10:38 p.m. with replacement crews.

The full news release detailing the timeline is available and further updates expected.

Top ‘Vet Friendly’ School Refuses Former Green Beret

Clay Alred 12-11-15 cropped

Former Green Beret Staff Sgt. Clay Allred was released from house arrest and only remains on probation after fulfilling all the requirements of his Veterans Treatment Court agreement which included completing treatment for PTSD, TBI and alcohol abuse. And Allred exceeded the number of community service hours required by the court.

The University of South Florida was listed as the most veteran friendly college in the nation by Money Magazine in 2015. But it’s not looking so “friendly” after refusing to re-admit a student veteran expelled because of a PTSD-related incident.

It leads to questions about the “veteran friendly” rankings. What do they mean and who do they serve?

For USF President Judy Genshaft, the  No. 1 ranking is a source of pride.

“As you know Money Magazine rated us No. 1 in the country as veteran friendly, and it was the Veteran Times that listed us number two,” Genshaft said after the December USF trustees meeting. “So, our veterans are clearly, very, very important to us.”

Student veterans also are a reliable source of tuition.

In 2015, USF received more than $7.1 million in GI Bill benefits, according to a letter Veteran Administration Secretary Bob McDonald sent last month to Genshaft.

His letter was responding to a plea from Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder, McDonald’s West Point classmate and head of the Hillsborough Veterans Treatment Court.

Holder is lobbying Genshaft, the USF Board of Trustees and now the VA Secretary to help Clay Allred, a former USF student veteran.

USF expelled the former Green Beret for an off-campus crime. He was 17 credits short of his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. In August 2014, the combat veteran was arrested and charged after threatening a store clerk with a weapon and later firing a revolver into the air after he was not allowed to use the gas station restroom.

The felony convictions landed Allred in veterans’ court and under Holder’s supervision. The court got Allred help from the VA where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and received treatment.

“Clearly abhorrent behavior triggered as we now know by his PTSD and his TBI,” Holder said after making an appeal to USF trustees in December. “Are we to stigmatize these men and women throughout their lives?”

Holder_USF_TrusteesDespite Holder’s efforts, USF denied Allred readmission again in an letter sent last Friday. The rejection letter stated that “once a student is expelled, they cannot be considered for readmission.” It also stated that Allred was turned down because he is still under felony probation and because of the severity of his crime. Allred has 10 days to appeal.

Allred’s case was not on the radar when Money Magazine ranked USF at the top, according to reporter Kaitlin Mulhere. She said she used metrics like staff levels, support services and graduation rates to create the list that was a merge of Money Magazine’s Best Colleges and Military Times Veteran Friendly rankings.

She said the Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits make veterans desirable students.

“If somebody was maybe a little more cynical, they’d point out that student veterans bring with them considerable tuition money from the federal government,” Mulhere said. “They’re kind of a guaranteed tuition bill for colleges.”

Veterans are valued students but not solely for the GI tuition according to David Vacchi, who is working on his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst that looks at the success of veterans recently graduated from college.

“The real benefit in bringing in veterans on the GI Bill is you’re graduating students without debt,” Vacchi said. “Alumni that graduate without debt is going to get to towards that ability to donate much faster.”

Vacchi is a retired Army officer and associate director for veteran services at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He said, in his experience, veterans don’t use the magazine rankings when selecting a school. He’s not a fan of the reports that rely in part on self-reporting surveys.

“I’m wondering if magazines are just trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Post 9-11 GI Bill in order for them to make money or are they truly interested in helping veterans find the best fit for them?” Vacchi said. “There’s nothing in these lists that suggests any attempt to make an individual fit.”

He was unfamiliar with the USF case, but said it is not typical – that most student veterans are not dealing with PTSD.

Yet, Vacchi said he was puzzled that USF didn’t go beyond set policies and reach out to Allred: “Why can’t the director of admissions or a board of people or heck the president sit down and meet with this veteran and make an assessment for themselves?”

Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs McDonald will be doing his own assessment when he sits down with USF President Genshaft on Feb. 12 in Washington D.C. to talk about how to make USF friendlier toward student veterans with legal problems and mental health issues.

Tips For Sending Holiday Packages To Deployed Troops

Care packages being prepared for Citadel Cadets prior to Christmas.

Care packages being prepared for Citadel Cadets prior to Christmas.

The  Blue Star Families blog has five essential tips to send a memorable box of goodies to your loved one overseas. And they throw in some ideas on popular gifts.

  1. Send them holiday traditions. Pack up a DVD of the family’s favorite holiday movie such as It’s A Wonderful Life, or a family favorite holiday food like fruitcake or special cookies.
  2. Check the country’s list of prohibited goods. The military has an agreement to not ship prohibited foods for certain countries. For example in the Middle East or Persian Gulf areas, you should not send anything that would offend people of the Islamic faith, including pork or pork by-products, obscene material, and alcohol.
  3. Take care when packing. Some foods may spoil before they reach their destination and chocolate items melt if being mailed to a hotter climate.
  4. Check shipping dates. The United States Postal Service suggests for priority packages and letters to mail by Dec. 10, 2015 or Dec. 3 for AE ZIP 093.
  5. Send something to share. Deployed troops live, work and survive as teams. So, send enough cookies for their team. Some families even send personalized stockings for team members.

For ideas on what to ship to your deployed loved one, check out the Blue Star Families list and The Military Times.

 

Hunger No Stranger To Veteran And Military Families

 Transitioning Army veteran Keith Norman, his wife Lina Norman and two of their four daughters, Shelia Encheva, 12, and Kiara Norman, 3. Bobbie O'Brien WUSF Public Media


Transitioning Army veteran Keith Norman, his wife Lina Norman and two of their four daughters, Shelia Encheva, 12, and Kiara Norman, 3.
Bobbie O’Brien WUSF Public Media

A 2014 survey found that almost 20 percent of the households using the Feeding Tampa Bay food bank were either veterans or active duty military.

The Norman family is a military family recently arrived from Colorado and transitioning into civilian life in Tampa. Never in a million years did the parents imagine that they would need help feeding their children.

“Everything changed from two, three weeks ago – we have a normal life. I worked. He worked. We’d go to the mall,” Lina Norman said. “Now, it’s nothing like this anymore. My little daughter asks ‘Can we go to the mall, can I have a hamburger? No. We always have to say no for everything now.”

Just a few weeks ago, Keith Norman was still in the Army. But after almost 10 years on active-duty and two deployments to Iraq, he wanted to follow his dream to become a law officer.

“We planned a year out. We made arrangements for housing because that would be the main thing we needed,” he said.

 Keith Norman served almost 10 years in the Army including two tours in Iraq before pursuing his dream to become a law officer. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media


Keith Norman served almost 10 years in the Army including two tours in Iraq before pursuing his dream to become a law officer.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

They found a house to rent online. Lina said they got photos of the house and assurances from the landlord that it was in a safe neighborhood.

“We sent a security deposit, rent, everything. And we think okay, he has the job interview, we have the house, we’re good,” said Lina, who met and married Keith in Germany about five years ago.

But things weren’t good. They said the house they rented online ended up being in a bad neighborhood, and was infested with roaches and full of trash.

“My kids just get scared,” Lina Norman said. “They say ‘Where are we?’ They never lived in, they never been in situation like this.”

The Normans used up their savings staying in motel rooms while they tried to get a refund and find another house. When their money ran low, they pawned their television, borrowed money from family and then Keith and Lina started skipping meals.

The executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay said about 70 percent of the food they distribute is perishable, vegetables, dairy and frozen foods and supply about 65 percent of the food to soup kitchens and food pantries in a 10 county region.

The executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay said about 70 percent of the food they distribute is perishable, vegetables, dairy and frozen foods and supply about 65 percent of the food to soup kitchens and food pantries in a 10 county region.

“We just buy food for the kids first. They say ‘Mom why you don’t eat?’” Lina Norman said. “They just give us pieces and just say we going to be fine. And we try to don’t lose it completely in front of them.”

The family including the four girls, Shelia, 12; Esli, 9; Jeida, 7; and Kiara, 3 started sleeping in their two cars.

“Basically, we had to stretch our money out,” Keith Norman said. “When we were living in our vehicles, it was a big life changer.”

Both parents were embarrassed and distraught by how quickly their finances disintegrated. And they worried that asking for help might affect their job prospects.

But after sleeping in their cars for about a week, the family got a motel voucher and meals from Metropolitan Ministries and help finding a modest, single-family concrete block home in the Palm River neighborhood.

The three school-aged girls are enrolled in school and Keith said he’s taken his first test in the process of becoming a law officer.

“My daughter (Shelia), she has a birthday on (Nov.) 25th.  She’s going to be 13. We try to save our last money for cake,” Lina said.

But she said they were not planning on celebrating Thanksgiving because they didn’t have a reliable source of food that was until they visited Feeding Tampa Bay.

 Feeding Tampa Bay CEO Thomas Mantz and new employee Marlon Sykes, a 18-year Air Force veteran, stand before a large banner of people's photos, all helped by the food bank. Bobbie O'Brien WUSF Public Media


Feeding Tampa Bay CEO Thomas Mantz and new employee Marlon Sykes, a 18-year Air Force veteran, stand before a large banner of people’s photos, all helped by the food bank.
Bobbie O’Brien WUSF Public Media

“When I hear a story like that, I’m struck by the idea that they’re willing to do whatever is necessary in order to make the life for their children and their family what we would all want it to be. The lengths that they have to go to though are extraordinary,” said Thomas Mantz, Feeding Tampa Bay executive director.

The regional food bank provides an estimated 65 percent of the all food used in the soup kitchens and distributed through food pantries in a 10 county area.

Feeding Tampa Bay did a quadrennial survey that found 19 percent of the households they serve have a veteran or active duty military member.

New employee Marlon Sykes, a  18-year Air Force veteran, was only slightly surprised by that statistic.

“It mostly startles me because I don’t feel like any veteran should be in that category. But it doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it,” Sykes said.

What happened to the Norman family is becoming a lot more common.

“It’s particularly awful that veterans who we’ve asked to stand up and guard us and defend us should be hungry. I agree with that 1,000 percent,” Mantz said. “I also believe that no one else should be hungry.”

Feeding Tampa Bay provided the Norman family with a box of food and details on how to find their mobile food pantries.

The loading docks at Feeding Tampa Bay which provides about 65 percent of all the food at soup kitchens, church pantries and other charitable food programs in a 10-county region.

The loading docks at Feeding Tampa Bay which provides about 65 percent of all the food at soup kitchens, church pantries and other charitable food programs in a 10-county region.

Judge Asks University To Readmit Expelled Veteran

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder with a graduate from Veterans Treatment Court in August.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder with a graduate from Veterans Treatment Court in August.

A Hillsborough Circuit judge is calling on the University of South Florida to live up to its recent ranking as a top “veteran friendly” university.

Judge Greg Holder has asked USF President Judy Genshaft to readmit a student veteran who was expelled after an off-campus incident in August 2014.

Holder said the charges against former Army Staff Sergeant Clay Allred were serious – threatening a store clerk with a firearm and later discharging the firearm into the air – but Allred’s actions were directly related to his combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Allred was accepted in the Veterans Treatment Court, he admitted his guilt, accepted responsibility and was sentence to two years on house arrest followed by three years of probation.

Now after a year of court supervision and treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that had gone undiagnosed, Holder said the former Green Beret deserves a second chance to complete his degree.

In his letter dated Nov. 13, 2015, the judge requested that USF re-admit Allred as an online student so he can finish his senior year. Holder even offered to amend Allred’s house arrest to prohibit him from going onto USF property.

“I’m providing whatever protections Dr. Genshaft or her personnel might deem appropriate,” Holder said. “So, that hopefully consistent with USF status as the number two veteran friendly school in this nation, we can get this man back as a member of the ‘Bull Nation.’”

A USF spokeswoman said the university has received Holder’s letter, but could not say if Genshaft has read it. The university declined comment on Allred’s status citing federal privacy laws and added that “USF does not offer online exclusive undergraduate programs.”

Along with his letter, Holder included 40 pages of supporting documentation including Allred’s citation for the Army Bronze Star Medal awarded for his service in Afghanistan training members of the Afghan National Police.

2015 Veterans Day Events In Tampa Bay

flag_homeThroughout the Tampa Bay region, Florida and the nation, special ceremonies are planned to recognize the sacrifice of those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and those who are currently serving. You can find the Veterans Day events nearest you at a Department of Veterans Affairs website or check the listings below.

And if you can’t make it to a ceremony or parade, there are alternative opportunities to honor a veteran year-round, check them out.

Wednesday, Nov. 11 – Veterans Day

ALL FLORIDA STATE PARKS – To celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, entry into all state parks is free to veterans and the general public (with the exception of the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park) as a tribute to Veterans Day. Here’s an interactive map to locate the state parks nearest you: https://www.floridastateparks.org/interactive-map

PINELLAS COUNTY PARKS – how The parking fees at county parks on Veterans Day is beign waived to show appreciation for local veterans and their families. The offer applies to all visitors: all county boat ramps, Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, Sand Key Park in Clearwater and Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde. Other county managed parks offer free parking daily. A list of Pinellas County parks is available at www.pinellascounty.org/park.

SARASOTA – ROBARTS ARENA – 7 AM – The 2nd Annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast, at 3000 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, FL, features keynote speaker retired General Charles Shugg, a music medley and Vietnam Vets who will receive a commemorative pin in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The breakfast benefits the Sarasota Kiwanis Foundation and Goodwill Manasota’s Veterans Services Program. $25 per person. Register at 941-925-2970 or SRQKiwanisVeterans-DayBreakfast@gmail.com.

ST. PETERSBURG – WILLIAMS PARK – 8 AM – The 2nd Annual Veterans Day Celebration featuring patriotic songs from the Gibbs High School Pinellas County Center for the Arts Choir, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and honored military veteran Willie Rogers, who served as a Master Sergeant for the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. The ceremony is planned in front of the Veteran’s Memorial at Williams Park, 1st Avenue and 4th Street N., St. Petersburg, FL.

NEW PORT RICHEY – RIVER RIDGE CENTER FOR THE ARTS – 9 AM – The Pasco County School District is holding a district-wide Veterans Day Ceremony featuring keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the River Ridge ROTC, Pasco County Schools veteran alumnus and music provided by River Ridge Middle and High Schools, and the Cypress Elementary School Chorus. Winner of the Pasco Constitutional Officers Essay Contest will be announced. The event to honor and celebrate is at River Ridge Center for the Arts, 11646 Town Center Rd., New Port Richey.

TAMPA – PORT TAMPA BAY TERMINAL #2 – 9 AM-1 PM – Operation: REVEILLE – an event for veterans who are homeless – brings together a range of resources and organizations to help veterans with housing, employment, health benefits and other services. The goal is to connect 50 homeless veterans with housing on Veterans Day. The event is planned at Terminal #2, 651 Channelside Drive, and cosponsored by Hillsborough County, the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative and the city of Tampa. Details on the program are available at THHI.org/operation-reveille-2015

SARASOTA – DOWNTOWN – 10 AM – The Sarasota Veterans’ Day Parade with the theme “When Duty Calls,” starts at Main Street and Osprey Avenue and proceeds down Main Street to J. D. Hamel Park on Gulfstream. A Veterans Day Ceremony is planned around 11:00 a.m. after the completion of the parade. The special guest speaker is Army Col. (retired) Stephan D. Cork, the original commandant of Sarasota Military Academy. Sponsored by the Sarasota Patriotic Observance Committee.

TAMPA – JAMES A. HALEY VA10 am – The 8th Annual Veterans Day ceremony and parade, classic car show and Welcome Home event, on the hospital campus, 13000 Bruce B Downs Blvd, Tampa, FL. There will be a brief ceremony in front of the Fisher House. The parade follows immediately after. The parade has 70 units. Col. Daniel H. Tulley, Commander, 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida is the key note speaker and former Army Paratrooper and military contractor Rick Cicero, is this year’s grand marshal. After the parade, Operation Helping Hand is sponsoring a cookout with hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad and chips, and USF is sponsoring the desserts. http://www.tampa.va.gov/

VENICE – PATRIOT’S PARK – 10 AM – A ceremony, sponsored by the Marine Corps League 643 of Nokomis, will include the presentation of the colors, the Venice Police, Venice H.S. Marine Corps JROTC plus the Sun Coast Wind Ensemble. The observation is at 800 Venetia Bay Blvd., just off Route 41 south of Roberts Bay on the east side. Following the ceremony all veterans are invited back to the American Legion NO-VEL Post 159 in Venice for the Veteran’s Day Open House. 1770 E. Venice Ave., Venice.

BAY PINES VA 11 AM – The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System  will host its annual Veterans Day Ceremony in the courtyard located buildings 2 and 37 on the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center campus, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd, Bay Pines, FL.  The event is open to all Veterans, their family and friends, and the general public. Highlights include guest speakers from VA, MacDill Air Force Base and U.S. Rep. David W. Jolly, and musical performances by the Florida Orchestra and the Keswick Christian School Choir; a special parade of colors provided by local Veteran Service Organizations; and traditional military including a taps performance. A shuttle service will be available to provide transportation for guests from parking lots to the ceremony area. www.baypines.va.gov/locations/directions.asp

BUSHNELL – FLORIDA NATIONAL CEMETERY – 11 AM – Keynote speaker Don Hahnfeldt, a retired Navy veteran and chairman of the Sumter County Commission, is a highlight of the Veterans Day Ceremony moderated by Steve Jerve of WFLA-TV and with music by the Pasco High School Band. Seating is limited so you’re encouraged to bring chairs or blankets. Florida National Cemetery, 6502 SW 102nd Ave., Bushnell, FL.

HILLSBOROUGH VETERANS MEMORIAL PARK – 11 AM – The Annual Veterans Day of Remembrance ceremony will highlight JROTC students from several high schools including Bloomingdale, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Middleton, Newsome and Riverview scheduled. The presentation includes students performing exhibition drills, presenting poems, and leading participants in the Pledge of Allegiance. The event at the Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 N. U.S. Highway 301, Tampa, FL, is free and open to the public.

SAINT LEO UNIVERSITY – 11 AM to 4 PM – A ceremony and service projects will mark Veterans Day starting with a ceremony with keynote speaker Major General James S. Hartsell, USMC, at the Student Community Center followed by several student service projects: the Peace Paper Project from 12:30-4 PM; Theta Phi Alpha sorority “Sending Kisses to the Troops” care package project 12:30-4 PM; The Circle of Veterans providing resources and information for veterans 12:30-4 PM. A performance by the J2 Band will run from 1:30-4 PM. The campus is located at 33701 State Road 52, four miles east of Interstate 75 (Exit 285) in the town of Saint Leo. Parking is available in the campus garage.The events are free and open to all veterans, active military, and the local community.

SARASOTA – ISLAND PARK – NOON – Florida Veterans for Common Sense will participate in the Sarasota Veterans Day Parade and Ceremony and follow it up with a picnic to build camaraderie among its members at Island Park, 5 Bayfront Dr, Sarasota, FL, Set-up is on the south side of the park. Bring your own picnic food and some to share as well as seating and portable tables. Contact Mike Burns at : Mtburns44@gmail.com

LONG BOAT KEY – 2:30 PM – A Veterans Day Parade, starting at Bay Isles Road (behind the Publix) to Temple Beth Israel, 567 Bay Isles Rd, will feature a VFW Color Guard, Fire Truck, and Marching Band. A program of “Memorable Moments” is planned at the end of the parade followed by refreshments for participants. More info at: jackrozance@att.net, eugenelu@comcast.net.

SARASOTA NATIONAL CEMETERY – 2:45 PM – Opening ceremonies followed by the Annual Veteran’s Day Mass at 3 p.m. with Bishop Frank J. Dewane.  The service honors the men and women who have served our country and are serving us today. There will be ample seating and parking. Sarasota National Cemetery, 9810 State Road 72 (Clark Road), Sarasota, FL.

LARGO CENTRAL PARK – 5 PM – The city of Largo is presenting a ceremony with a keynote speaker, music and a color guard presentation is free and open to the public at the Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive, Largo.

TAMPA – WATER WORKS PARK – 5:30 PM – A free Veterans Day Observance and Patriotic Concert, hosted by the city of Tampa, 1710 Highland Ave., Tampa, FL. It will feature members from MacDill Air Force Base, U.S. Central Command and entertainment by the Eastern Hillsborough Community Band, as well as a salute to veterans and local Medal of Honor recipients. The event will also feature a display of several pieces of vintage military equipment stationed within the park.

SARASOTA HIGH SCHOOL – 7 PM – The Singing Sailors from Sarasota High School host a free, Veterans Salute concert with a guest choir from Booker Middle School. The public concert is at Sarasota High Auditorium, admission. 1000 S. School Ave., Sarasota, FL.

TAMPA – UNIVERISTY OF TAMPA – 7:30 PM – A free concert of American music featuring organist Ryan Hebert and celebrating those who served in the Armed Forces is planned at the UT Sykes Chapel, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

SAINT LEO UNIVERSITY – 8-10 PM – Moonlight Madness highlighting a student veteran color guard, a national anthem soloist and a mental toughness challenge game is planned on campus at the Marion Bowman Activities Center, 33701 State Road 52, four miles east of Interstate 75 (Exit 285) in the town of Saint Leo. The event is free and open to all veterans, active military, and the local community.

Thursday – Nov. 12

TAMPA – PORT TAMPA BAY TERMINAL #2 – 9 AM-1 PM – A Job Fair and free classes on how to conduct a job search are open to veterans and persons with disabilities. The Mayor’s Alliance for Persons with Disabilities is sponsoring the event with 29 employers that are looking to hire veterans. It’s being held at Port Tampa Bay Terminal 2, 651 Channelside Dr., Tampa, FL. You can pre-register at www.tampagov.net/jobfair.

SARASOTA HIGH SCHOOL – 7 PM – The Singing Sailors from Sarasota High School host a free, Veterans Salute concert with a guest choir from McIntosh and Sarasota middle schools. The public concert is at Sarasota High Auditorium, admission. 1000 S. School Ave., Sarasota, FL.

Friday, Nov. 13

NEW PORT RICHEY – VET CENTER 8:45 AM-4:15 PMA full day of free sessions for veterans and their family members is being offered at the Pasco County Vet Center, 5139 Deer Park Drive in New Port Richey, FL.  The seminar starts with a session on Readjustment Counseling Services, followed every hour with a new topic: VA Home Based Primary Care/Medical Foster Homes, Veteran Burial Benefits, Elder Law & Changes to Caregiver Benefits, a free lunch, VA Claims, Veteran Preference and How to Use It, Employment, VA Mortgage/Real Estate. There’s only room for 30 at each session so pre-registration is requested. Call 727/372-1854.

Saturday, Nov. 14

TAMPA – RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM – 7 PM – The University of South Florida Tillman Scholars and other military veterans will be recognized at half-time at this year’s Salute to Service Football Game featuring the University of South Florida vs Temple. The USF Office of Veterans Services has partnered with USF’s Athletic Department to sponsor this event.

Free Offerings for Veterans & Active-Duty Military

RESTAURANTS – From Applebee’s to Village Inn – Military.Com has a full, national listing of restaurants offering free meals or discounts to veterans and active-duty military on Nov. 11, 2015 Veterans Day. You can check-out the list and links.

HART BUS RIDES – Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will offer free rides to U.S. military veterans on Veterans Day, and to all members of the armed services, both active and retired, as well as to their family members and dependents. Riders are asked to show a valid military or veterans ID card when boarding any HART bus to qualify for a free ride. This offer is not valid for use of HARTPlus service or the TECO Line Streetcar System.

ATTRACTIONS & MUSEUMS – Several museums and local attractions are offering free admission to military personnel from active-duty to retired veterans and discounts for additional guests and family. You can check-out the Veterans Day admission offerings.

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