“Oh Say Can You See”: Honoring Officers & Gentlepeople

Memorial Island Flag

Click photo to view our Facebook Photo Gallery

Old Glory proudly stands guard in a hauntingly beautiful park on the shores of the Indian River Lagoon. On this early November day, she is swirling furiously in the wind, edges tattered by many seasons of weather. She is a very large, magnificent flag; the symbol of our United States. I am wandering Vero Beach’s Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary with a chill running down my back and it is NOT due to a November wind. This “chill” comes from the emotion I feel as I stroll the island’s paths filled with memorials to our Veterans and some of the BEST views in Vero. The five star views pale in comparison to the sacrifices of our military families who have given and continue to give their ALL to protect the freedoms “we the people” cherish so very much. History and memories fill my mind: memories of my father, a Marine; memories of war stories told by Great Uncles; memories of old neighbors who never returned from Vietnam; memories shared with me by the inspiring Veterans I met today at the Victory Center Military Store. Take a trip to Indian River Mall and very close to Macy’s you will find the Victory Center Military Store.  It is a treasure trove of military items from Navy bumper stickers to World War II collectors items and is staffed wholly by volunteers.  The true treasure are the volunteers (mostly Veterans) at the Victory Center. Their dedication and service to this store and their fellow Veterans is incredibly inspiring.  100% of the store’s profits go to military charities chosen by the volunteers, based on their hours served.  I had the incredible honor to speak with three Veteran volunteers during my visit. Edie, a 91 years young World War II Navy Veteran, greeted me with the warmth and graciousness of a professional hostess.  She is an amazing example of dedicating one’s life to service and her life and”war” stories still have me awestruck!  Edie, a Navy Chief with 27 years of service, spent 1944 to 1946 in the 7th Naval District in Miami working on Pier 3 in the office charged with ship repairs.  Her husband, whom she met in Miami, was a highly decorated sailor serving on the USS Birmingham.  He received a Purple Heart for his actions upon boarding the burning Princeton as the leading Firefighter following its bombardment by Japanese forces on October 25, 1944.  Edie’s brave sailor was medically discharged due to battle wounds following 8 years of Naval service in December 1945.  Edie continued to serve in the Naval Reserve for the next quarter century in Miami, Jacksonville, Norfolk & Charleston.  During her down time, Edie learned to pilot light planes and flew recreationally from 1951 until the 70s.  In her 9th decade, she has more energy than I and donates her volunteer “profits” to American Legion Post 39. Edie insisted I speak next to Lieutenant Colonel Andrew, US Army Special Forces Green Beret who served two tours of duty in Vietnam from 1962 to 1966.  The Lieutenant Colonel was a soft spoken man whose decorations for service include the Silver Star, 2 Bronze Stars and “more Air Medals for valor” than he can count on two hands.  After Vietnam, he was Infantry and spent most of his career at Fort Benning as an instructor.  He finished his 22 years of service with Joint Service (Air Force) as part of Operation Looking Glass on the Airborne Command Post out of England & Hawaii as a Nuclear Release Officer. Victory Center’s store Manager, Nick, an Air Force Sergeant, spent 1971 to 1975 in Germany and at NATO on security detail.  Nick gave me the grand tour, making certain I was aware of the “R & R Bunker” and Wall of Honor.  Besides selling military merchandise, the store provides a space for our local heroes to find camaraderie, support and simply relax.  There are comfortable couches, computers equipped with Skype for “loved ones to talk to their veterans”, refreshments, WiFi, memorabilia and most importantly friends.  The ‘Wall of Honor” is an entire wall full of photographs honoring the Veterans of Indian River County. November is a month to give thanks.  The Victory Center, celebrating its 3rd Anniversary this month, is in the business of giving thanks to our Veterans daily.  Vero Beach, as a community, honors and thanks its military heroes this Tuesday, Veterans Day, at Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary.  Take some time today, this week and all through the month to give thanks for our freedoms and thank the Veterans whose service and sacrifice made it possible. MORE INFORMATION: Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary, Riverside Park Visit them on FB or https://www.indianriverveterans.org/site/index.php/veterans-memorial-island-sanctuary Victory Center Military Store, Indian River Mall, 6200 20th Street, Suite 160; 772-226-5316 Visit them on FB or https://vcms-fl.com/ USS Birmingham https://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/b6/birmingham-ii.htm Operation Looking Glass https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Looking_Glass      
Sherry Nist