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SARASOTA SENIOR FRIENDSHIP CENTER VETERANS WEEK 2013

Posted by John Thomas on Friday, 15 November 2013 in Uncategorized

The 1st I.D. made a three day appearance during the 12th,13th, and 14th of November 2013 at the Sarasota Senior Friendship Center for their Salute to Veterans Week 2013.

  First, a little about the Senior Center. The Sarasota Senior Friendship Center is a non-profit organization that provides locations to seniors in Sarasota and Venice where they can take part in numerous life enriching programs. The Friendship Center's main campus is located in Sarasota, across from Selby Gardens.

  Coordinator Jen Reisenberger contacted the 1st I.D. about six months ago to schedule this event and we are very honored to have taken part in it. I was informed that the event was to take place at their main campus and it would include the traveling Vietnam Wall, a Vietnam War Helicoptor exhibit, the traveling Tuskeegee Airman exhibit, as well as numerous static displays of American military history. The main focus of this event was to honor American veterans. I jumped at the opportunity for our unit to be a part of this event. As time went on, I brought the units enclosed trailer that contains all of our extensive encampment and equipment  for Jen to get an idea of what their organization would be getting for the three day event. Mrs. Reisenberger asked a lot of questions and when she was satisfied that our Group would be an asset for their organizations' event, she confirmed our appearance.

  The stage was set and we began to prepare our displays' for the up-coming event. I don't like to toot our own horn, but the 1st I.D. always endeavors to deliver what any event needs and more. We have just enough skilled reenactors on hand for any given event, not too many- not too few. Our displays are accurate for the period of time that they reflect and at the same time entertaining and functional. More than anything, our displays are inviting to the visiting public and our reenactors are personable, not stand offish. New crates were built, stenciled and or painted. Numerous different caliber blanks were purchased, and the Group welcomed a 1919 30 cal. semi-auto M.G. Various new webbed gear were purchased, uniforms repaired, replaced, and/or sent to the cleaners. A schedule was put together which took into account work and school schedules for members and different days were assigned as necessary.

  On Monday afternoon (11-11-13), Art Dershimer, Bill Wallin, Connor Thomas, and myself began the job of setting up the encampment at the center. This took about four hours to set up the tent fly, small wall tent, and all of the rest of the encampment. A lot of work, but once we were done, it looked great.

  On Tuesday morning, everyone showed up on time and the event began. We immediately met and became friends with all of the great staff at the senior center, Sue Firestone, Marilyn, Ember, Lee, Paul, and of course Jen, just to name a few. Mr. Robert Carter, the Director was on hand at several occasions during the week and shared a story or two of his time as an Officer in the U.S. Army. The attendance was brisk as many people who normally attend the center came outside in the beautiful weather to view the exhibits. As the day wore on, we noticed numerous veterans starting to stream in to view the Vietnam Wall. It was very moving to watch them walk by our display on their way towards the Wall. I may be over thinking this but it appeared to me that several seemed to have to will themselves to go to it, knowing the pain it would cause them to see the names of a friend or a family member or others they were connected to in their past. I was glad to see them attend our display on their way back thru, where we were able to talk with them a bit about our display but then listen to them tell about their own involvement in the service to their country. We spoke to so many veterans during the three day event and it seemed to me about 90 percent had been involved in the Vietnam War. I can't begin to tell you how many extremely detailed accounts we heard of these mens' service during the full spectrum of that conflict. We heard stories from the Navy veterans of their Destroyers shelling the coast, stories of the pilots and aircrew on the vast variety of missions flown over Vietnam and Cambodia, stories of the ground soldiers- Army and USMC, and what they endured during their time in Vietnam. Most of them talked to us after they came back from the wall, but some seemed to want to talk to us before they went, not in any hurry to see the names on the Wall. They talked for awhile and we listened, not asking too many questions, then they solemnly walked to the Wall. It was very moving and humbling. As a WW2 Reenactor, there have been times that I have felt awkward wearing the WW2 G.I. uniform and pretending to be something I'm not. I hope that I did not show it, but I felt this way more than once when I viewed these men with their families and saw and felt the pain that they were remembering. I speak for a lot of Americans when I say that we will always owe our Veterans our eternal gratitude for what they have done and what has happened to them, or what could have happened to them as they placed themselves in harms way for the sake of their countries' defense and the good of the world.

  In contrast to these military veterans were the Jr. ROTC Students from Sarasota High School who attended the Center on Thursday. Several groups of these students came by and heard our brief presentation of American involvement in WW2 as well as a short weapons demonstration. A big thanks goes out to their instructor, Col. Mo and his assisting Sgt. at Sarasota High for bringing their great group of sharp and respectful students to the Center. Good Luck to all of them in their future endeavors. 

  The event lasted for three days and it was without a doubt one of the finest events we have attended. In attendance for the Group was Art Dershimer, Mike Hochleutner, Bill Wallin, Connor Thomas, and of course me, John Thomas. On Thursday afternoon/evening, we slowly packed up and said our goodbyes to our new friends at the Senior Center, hoping that we will see them again next year.

  I would also like to thank Mr. Paul Jantzen for his generous contribution of a WW2 G.I. M-1 helmet. The helmet will be sent off to J.Murray Helmet's for a full restoration and then used by the 1st I.D. Reenactors. A big salute to Mr. Jantzen!

  In closing, I would like to name a few of the Veterans we were honored to meet and speak with at this weeks event. With their permission, I am printing their names and related Military service. In order of meeting them:

  Mr. Dave Shigley- USAF Crew Member aboard specially modified C-47's-6994 Security Squadron-Vietnam-1967-1968.

  Mr. George Mitchell-USAF Crew Member aboard specially modified C-47's Procurement Runs-Vietnam-1969-1970.

  Mr. Ed Buchholz-USN Crew Member aboard Destroyers USS Miles C Fox and USS Warrington-Vietnam-1967-1968.

  Mr. John D. Footman-Ret. St. Sgt. US Army 4th I.D. Vietnam-1967-1968 and 701st Mech.-Vietnam-1970-1971.

  Mr. Mark Roska-USMC 11th Engineers-Vietnam-1968-1969.

  Again, thank you to all of our Veterans,

                                                          Respectfully,

                                                          John Thomas and the rest of the 1st I.D. R.G.

 

   

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