When a Marine becomes a Chaplain ….chris sheriff tells his story

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come,” we sing and it is the Amazing Grace that song declares that has been a steady foundation for me. When I was only a child, my grandparents gave me the gift of respect for God and others as they exampled for me what it looked like to be faithful in devotion to God and His church. Imagine me, an 8 year-old hyperactive little kid having to sit on my grandfather’s knee as he read to me the wisdom from the Bible, specifically the book of Proverbs (he likely had hopes that those words would somehow reign in my hyperactivity and mischievousness). If you imagined a frustrated grandfather and an equally frustrated kid then you got it right! But though the words from that King James version bible fell on deaf ears for an 8 year old, it would be the example of that faithful follower of Christ that would help shape who I am today.

 After college I joined the United States Marine Corps. Paris Island, where recruits from east of the Mississippi are sent to become Marines, welcomed me with open arms…arms ready to break me, shape me, and turn me into a US Marine. Later that year, after completing my initial training (Boot Camp, Marine Combat Training and my occupational training), I was sitting in a chow hall at Camp Pendleton, C.A. as we watched those two planes fly into the World Trade Center in NY. Breakfast was quick that day. As part of 1st Marine Division, we began desert training in Twenty-Nine Palms, CA and Yuma, AZ. That training lasted all throughout 2002 and by January of 2003 we had landed in Kuwait, offloading ships and prepping the gear to get ready for the order to invade Iraq; that order came in March, 2003.

 Yet, even through the trials and pain that come with military service, I was being prepared for a greater call. Through the dust of that war-torn place, I could still see God’s hand guiding and protecting me; leading me through many dangers, toils and snares. Finally after two tours to Iraq I decided to become a civilian again in 2009 and traded one uniform for another. Many lessons are learned in service to your country, but the greatest lesson for me was the same one my grandfather tried to teach me from the safety of his knee nearly 40 years earlier…love the Lord your God and your neighbor with all your heart, no matter the cost.

 The military added to my appreciation for hard work and sacrifice, understanding that though the work may sometimes seem fruitless in the moment, the seeds we plant will ultimately bring fruit. I worked for a few years in business but knew that there was another place I should be. It was a nagging kind of dissatisfaction I felt no matter the success I was having. One day in an uneventful and quite boring way, I felt as if I was being nudged out of my daily routine and into a life of full-time ministry. It was a surprise to most who had gotten to know me, but certainly wouldn’t have been a surprise to my grandfather, had he been alive to see it. So I began my seminary studies and after three years I entered my first pastorate in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. Almost four years later our family moved to beautiful Naples, Fl where I continue my ministry at The Arlington of Naples…a paradise within paradise!

As a Chaplain at The Arlington of Naples, I now have the distinct honor and genuine pleasure in serving the residents who have chosen to make this community their home. It is no overstatement to say that I find full joy and fulfillment in my work as I counsel, pray with, teach, and worship with the residents of The Arlington. Who would have known that though it seemed hopeless at the time, my own grandfather was helping to shape me into the man that would one day care for the grandparents of others? God knew. Though He chose quite a journey through the wilderness to bring me to this place, it is the experiences of life that have helped shape me into a tool for God to use to bring hope to others. You also have a chance to shape someone. Will you?

 All of us travel our own path in this journey of life. I don’t know what your path has been like, but it has been my experience that through all the turns, valleys, and mountains of life, God is leading me to my destination. Who knows what the future holds?

That’s right, He knows!

Wounded Warriors Turns A Veteran’s Rollercoaster Ride Into A Road Of Recovery

Mitch Watson, a local homeless Veteran, is currently receiving transitional housing support from Wounded Warriors of Collier County. Now employed full-time as the Outreach Coordinator for the Hunger and Homeless Coalition of Collier County, Watson will soon be
able to move into an apartment of his own.

Wounded Warriors of Collier County is transforming the lives of Veterans struggling to transition to civilian life. Its vision, “No Veteran Left Behind,” is to assist the needs of Veterans and their families, with the focus on education, housing, and mental health.

Wounded Warriors has helped many Veterans get back on their feet since 2010, including Collier County resident Mitch Watson, who served four years in the Navy.

Like many Veterans, Watson struggled after leaving military life where he had grown used to the discipline. He later battled drug and alcohol abuse ultimately leaving him homeless many times throughout a 10 year period.

“It was sort of like a rollercoaster ride,” said Watson. “There were times I was doing well, and periods I was doing very poorly.”

Six months ago, Watson was committed to turning his life around. “At 53 years old, I could see an expiration date. I had never thought of that before,” said Watson.

Formerly homeless himself, 53-year-old Mitch Watson, embraces his new life helping to serve others in the community. Part of Watson’s new job is to deliver meals to the area’s homeless population.

As a Navy Veteran, Watson was eligible to move into the Wounded Warriors transitional housing, “Alpha House.”

Wounded Warriors provides Alpha House residents with free room and board and homeless Veterans a chance to improve their well-being and focus on their futures.

“It has allowed me to take the time I needed to work on my recovery. I didn’t have to worry about the expense of regular rent, where I was going to take a shower, or how I was going to eat,” Watson said.

Once each Veteran secures employment, Wounded Warriors uses a formulate for payment of rent.

While living at Wounded Warriors, Watson was recommended for a full-time position as Outreach Coordinator for the Hunger and Homeless Coalition of Collier County. The full-time job has provided him with financial and emotional benefits.

“It’s been a wonderful thing that has happened to me,” said Watson.

Working at the local homeless coalition provides Watson the opportunity to focus on somebody other than himself.

“For many addicts and alcoholics, selfishness is what gets you there in the first place,” he said.“ When you can spend your time helping others and giving back to folks on the streets, you have a greater opportunity in succeeding with the program yourself.”

Former Home

Now, it’s Watson’s goal to get involved with organizations like Wounded Warriors.

Having lived in Alpha House for just four months, Watson plans on moving out of the house in a few weeks to make room for someone else who needs it.

“Someone deserves the chance that I was given,” he said. “Now I am in a financial position where I can start looking to rent my own place.”

Watson is appreciative of all the organizations within the community who helped him get to where he is today including: Wounded Warriors of Collier County, Crossroads at David Lawrence Center, and the Hunger and Homeless Coalition.

Visit the Wounded Warriors website at:woundwarriorsofcolliercounty.com and learn more about how you can help by volunteering or providing financial support.

A Man of Valor – Russ Rainey shares his story…

I was born and raised in Atlanta, Ga. In 1934. My dad was Editor/Publisher of the Southeastern Drug Journal, a trade magazine for the drugstore business. He passed while I was in high school, so I wound up entering Georgia Tech in Atlanta in the school of Industrial Management. I also obtained a scholarship in the NROTC. I have talked with a few fellow officers who graduated with me at Ga. Tech, one of whom served with me aboard the radar picket ship, it’s nice to stay in touch. I enjoyed music, and played violin in various ensembles and the Atlanta Youth Symphony during those years as well.

Graduating in 1955, I immediately went on active duty, and following training in firefighting, was sent to a fleet ammunition ship in the Mediterranean. I had a strong feeling of responsibility, considering the role of my first assignment: keeping a task force armed for any eventuality. Our ship was tasked to rearm aircraft carriers in the event of war, and although we only practiced transfer, we were prepared to rearm aircraft for any situation, including nuclear. I further served aboard a Liberty ship converted to a Radar Picket Ship, with a partial crew of U S Air Force personnel, part of the Dew Line ( Distance Early Warning). I served the remainder of my naval duty, standby, attached to the Naval Ammunition Depot in New Jersey.

Married in 1956 to Patricia’ I joined F.W. Dodge Corp. in 1959 in New York as a District Manager in their “Sweets Catalog” Division, working with manufacturers of building materials and components to provide specification data to architects, engineers and contractors for all types of buildings. Later, Dodge became part of McGraw Hill Corp.  There I published a reference resource for Interior Designers.

In the mid-eighties I was transferred to the Miami office, and settled in Marco Island, where I retired. There we enjoyed our passion for sailing, both competitively and for pleasure. In 1991, I joined the Community Emergency Response Team with the Marco Fire Department. When we later moved to Fiddler’s Creek, I organized a similar team with East Naples Fire. I represented CERT on the Collier Citizens Corp for many years.  We are both Past Commodores of the Sailing Association of Marco Island. We also found opportunities to sail abroad, chartering in Greece and the Bahamas. We were able to take a shipboard tour around the world, followed by a follow-up tour by air to visit people we met in New Zealand and elsewhere. Over the years, we were privileged to visit Antarctica, Turkey, England and China on short trips.

Our daughter and her husband run a Rescue Mission in Florida, our oldest son is a construction supervisor in Maryland, building hotels and commercial projects all over the northeast, and our youngest son is a patent lawyer in Washington DC.

In 2013, Pat heard a presentation about The Arlington,  and we began thinking about the next stage in our lives. We were then living in Fiddler’s Creek, just off Marco. The last days of 2015, we moved into The Arlington, among the first in the Independent Living Mid-rise. The small photo to the left is breaking ground at The Arlington.

We have an active vets group here in conjunction with Avow, meeting online weekly. We have supported several vets here in participating in the Collier-Lee Honor Flight, and we have a vets photo gallery in the Healthcare building in excess of fifty pictures of Vets residing, working or resided here. I took the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. two years ago and it was a remarkable experience.

We were relieved to pass on the demands of home ownership, and not add to the concerns of our kids. The Arlington was especially attractive as we remained in our comfortable territory of Marco, continuing our convenient ties to Church, sailing friends, and other activities. New friends here are a bonus. We are confident that we made the right choice.

Military Child Appreciation Month

Lois Bolin

Since 1986, as part of the legacy of former Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, April has been designated as the Month of the Military Child. This month underscores the important role our military children play in our armed forces family. Because purple is a color used to represent all military services, the theme “Purple Up” is used over the course of the month.

Service Across the Generations                                                                                          Barbara Salkow, Blue Star Mothers Gulf Coast FL -12, said, “Sometimes people forget that it is the entire family who serves.” Jennifer Denard, only child of Vietnam Veteran, Capt. William Branch, wrote about her Dad’s final letter home: I love you little girl and one day soon I’m coming home from this war. I am going to be the best Dad around. I’m going to make up for lost time with you and your Mom.

On Father’s Day of 1970, they buried him. Jennifer was two. His death went on to affect the whole of her life. It shaped the lives of her grandparents, her mother, and now it is foremost in the hearts of another generation-her own three children.

Today Cpt. Branch’s daughter and his grandchildren have embarked on a mission to establish a Forever Gold Star Family stamp. To understand the generational effects on military children, to the right is a poem written by Eli Denard at age 10, which embodies the essence of how military children live the legacy and love of those gone before them.

You Are Not Alone
As the American Flag I am created for an important role in the lives of the people of my country. Sometimes my job is happy and sometimes it is hard.

It is June 6th of 1970. Two military soldiers silently fold me into a single blue triangle. I can see a woman weeping with a baby in her arms. Though a crowd stands around me it is quiet here. Only the sound of Taps plays in the distance. A warrior has died.

I have covered his casket for a thousand miles from the country of Vietnam. As I am given to the woman who is crying a soldier says to her, “Presented to you from a grateful

I am home now. It is my honor to help her, to watch over her and to remind her of the missing man she loves. When you see me flying over buildings, or standing watch over school yards and homes remember, I am more than a symbol. I am grief. I am gratitude. I am comfort. I carry with me the whisper of generations who have gone before. I am the American Flag. And you are not alone.

In honor of my grandfather, Capt. William A. Branch, 2/14th INF 25th DIV. I wrote this from the perspective of his folded flag. His name can be found on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Panel 9 West, Line 18

This month show your appreciation for military children by wearing purple. To find out how you can help the Denard family with their mission to get a forever Gold Star Family stamp, write                                               to JD2813@aol.com.

Naples Museum of Military History Celebrates Women in History

Lois Bolin

Every year during March, thousands of events are held throughout the country to acknowledge and recognize the accomplishments of women. The tribute began in 1980 as a week long celebration and by 1987 it was expanded to an entire month, making March National Women’s History Month.

On Saturday, March 28th from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., the Naples Museum of Military History in cooperation with SWFL Veterans Alliance will host an afternoon to meet the representatives of two organizations that shaped our country and see the Pioneering Matriarchs Photographic Exhibit by Penny Taylor which shows local women who shaped the foundation of Naples history.

American Gold Star Mothers of SWFL                                                                                                                                                  During World War I, a Blue Star was used to represent those in the Military Service of the United States. As the war continued, a Gold Star was superimposed over the blue which signified the honor and glory accorded the deceased person for their supreme sacrifice. This offering for their country, their last full measure of devotion, was reflected in this sacrifice, rather than the sense of personal loss which would be represented by the mourning symbols.

After years of planning, on June 4, 1928, twenty-five mothers met in Washington, DC to establish the national organization, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. Eighty-nine years later, on March 28, 2017, the American Gold Star Mothers of SWFL formed their chapter under the watchful eye of Polly Crews. This March 28th we will honor the success of these patriotic mothers, whose bond of mutual love and sympathy  have channeled their time, efforts and gifts to lessening the pain of others while sharing their grief and their pride.

Rosie the Riveters
Rosie the Riveter, a campaign aimed at recruiting female workers for defense industries during World War II, became one of the most iconic images of working women. By the end of the war in 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home.

The American Rosie the Riveter Association was founded December 7, 1998 and on March 21, 2017, National Rosie the Riveter Day was proclaimed by Congress. The ARRA recognizes and preserves the history and legacy of working women, including volunteer women, during World War II, in addition to furthering the advancement of patriotic ideals, excellence in the workplace, and loyalty to the United States. You’ll get to meet two of these iconic ladies.

Pioneering Matriarchs
The Naples community hosts countless stories of women with indomitable strength who kept their faces toward change and accomplished much in their own right by overriding belief systems and breaking the shackles of the 19th century about how women were  supposed to be and act.

Local photographer and current County Commissioner Penny Taylor photographed numerous pioneering women when she came to town many years ago. We are delighted to add the Pioneering Matriarchs Photographic Exhibit to our event.

Join us for this wonderful afternoon to celebrate Women in History at the Naples Museum of Military History located at 500 Terminal Drive, Naples 34104. For more info contact Lois Bolin at 239-777-2281.

Military Vets and the CCSO – First their Country now their County

For as long as he can remember, Lt. Gary Martin wanted a career in law enforcement. He joined the Air Force right after high school. After six years as a military police officer in North Dakota, where his duties involved the security and transportation of nuclear warheads and missiles, he took a job with his hometown sheriff ’s office in Indiana. It seemed to him like a natural transition. The path ultimately led him to the Collier County Sheriff ’s Office in 2001

After 21 years in the Navy, CCSO Special Details Coordinator Edyth Bird says a second career with a law enforcement agency was never on her radar. She returned to Naples following her retirement and was encouraged to seek employment at CCSO by current members at the time. “Seventeen years later, it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Bird, who joined the CCSO in 2002.

Like Lt. Martin and Coordinator Bird, veterans come from various military occupations that all bring unique value to the mission of the Collier County Sheriff ’s Office, which includes service to the community by investigating crimes, running an emergency communications center, operating the Naples Jail Center and managing courthouse security. “You’ve dealt with a paramilitary structure, so you understand
how that works,” Lt. Martin said. “Military people are problem-solvers whether it’s in combat, replacing or repairing jet engines. They are constantly solving problems on the fly. And that’s what we do in law enforcement. We go out and stand in people’s living rooms and they tell us a problem and we have to figure out how to fix it without asking anyone to help us.”

Nearly 30 percent of the agency’s current workforce are military veterans. CCSO offers veterans preference while vetting job candidates.
“We are extremely proud to have 291 military veterans working for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.
To honor the military service of agency members, Sheriff Rambosk created the CCSO Military Service Award. The award is presented to agency members who have served in the United States military and have been honorably discharged upon completion of their service as recognized by a DD214 form.

The Sheriff unveiled the award on November 11, Veterans Day. “Although the debt to the heroic men and women that have meritoriously  served our country can never be repaid, I have authorized the creation of this award as a way for the agency to express our undying gratitude and to recognize our veteran members for the sacrifices that they have made for our country and continue to make to our community,” Sheriff Rambosk said.

Lt. Martin returned to the Air Force in 2004 following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. He retired as a master sergeant, serving a total of 22 years. He is currently assigned to Patrol as the Golden Gate commander. “The military made me the kind of by-the-book, very
regimented person that I am,” he said. “If you do something wrong, it’s dangerous to everyone. Any time you are dealing with nuclear
warheads and the security of them, everything is by the book, by the numbers. Everything has a place. You don’t cut any corners.”

Coordinator Bird served in the Navy from 1981 to 2002, primarily as a western Pacific sailor, doing tours in California, Guam, Japan and Texas. She retired as a Chief Aerographer’s Mate (aviation warfare). Much of her career was spent collecting, recording and analyzing meteorological and oceanographic data. She prepared weather maps, issued weather forecasts and warnings, and conducted weather  briefings. She served as typhoon duty forecaster and chief petty officer in charge of a weather detachment. She has put her military
meteorological skills to good use at the CCSO. “Graphics, charts and briefing packets are a large part of any good weather forecast and I have been able to incorporate those skills into a myriad of areas at CCSO,” she said.

When the weather turns bad and everyone stays home, Coordinator Bird heads to the office. “That is just a normal day as a weather forecaster and boy, did that lifestyle follow me into a civilian career with CCSO,” she said. “As a part of the Emergency Management Team and housed in the Command Center during hurricane activation, we have all packed our bags to ride out the storm.” While stationed at the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC) in Monterey, California, one of her jobs was to prepare the tropical weather forecast advisory and storm tracks.

One of her functions on the CCSO Emergency Management Team is take the current warnings and forecast discussion and disseminate that information to members for both personal and operational planning. “The most difficult part is trying not to speak “Navy AG” and use civilian terminology,” she said.


Lois Bolin

‘Family’ is a single word, but it holds different meanings for different people. Today, few simply define ‘family’ by a dictionary definition and look to define ‘family’ by their own standards. Marge  Kennedy, children’s books author, said, “In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals, by the memories shared, by the commitment of time, and by shared hopes for the future as individuals and as a unit.” During November, our country and county honors our military and veteran families, for their sacrifices that make it possible for our military to remain organized and strong.

Veterans as Family

Left to Right: LCDR John Hogan, CSM James Burch,
CPL Jessica Dang, Capt. James Albert, Capt Torrey Searles,
A1C Jordan Tompkins.
Front: CPO William Carl
Photo Credit: Heather Corace

On September 5th, a perfect example of “family” occurred when friends and comrades threw WWII Veteran, First Lieutenant Joseph Innes, a surprise 100th birthday celebration at (of all places) the Strand Fitness Center. Joseph, a B-17 Navigator, moved to the United States from Czechoslovakia during the Great Depression. He served as an Army Air Corp navigator from 1943 to 1955, in the 338th Bombardment Group (H) assigned to the Eighth USAAF. Innes  was stationed at Knettishall, United Kingdom, and flew 35 missions.

Joseph, who by his own admission, lives a social life, is no stranger to many local organizations such as Opera Naples, SWFL Veterans Alliance and of course The Strand Fitness Center. The night of his party, he said that he sees most of these people at the fitness center or rather they see him! Like most WWII Veterans I know, Joe said he would serve all over again if he could. Luckily for us, after his service, Joseph accomplishments did not end. He worked for the United States Department of Transportation when he wrote the Safety Standards for US Highways and while at Ford he developed the disc brake patent.

Veterans Day
Since 1979, the Collier County Veterans Council has worked diligently to bring their ‘family’ (local veteran’s organizations) relevant news, events, information and support. The Council currently meets at the Naples City Hall on the third Wednesday of the month at 7 pm. Thank you City of Naples for your support! Every November 11th at Cambier Park at 755 8th Ave S. (34102), the CCVC host its Veteran’s Day Tribute. Music starts at 10 am and the program is completed by Noon. While some seating is provided, guests are asked to also bring chairs.

Following the CCVC’s Veterans Day tradition is another tradition. From 1-3 pm the VFW POST 7721 hosts its annual
Cook-Out at 800 Neffs Way (34119). Nothing makes Post Commander, J.B. Holmes and State Commander, Randy Cash happier than to see all of their Post families and the veteran’s families share in time together.

Tag a Pet for a Vet
Will Rogers said that if there are no dogs in heaven, he doesn’t want to go there. I understand. It goes without saying there is a special bond between humans and dogs, who are often considered a family member. This bond is good for our health, as well as the community’s health. Dogs have a way of getting us up and out and creates venues for increased human to human interaction, which is good for our veterans coming home from war.

A pet may be just the thing to heal those silent scars that make it difficult for some veterans to transition back to civilian life. When a rescue dog is added to the mix, both veterans and pets get a second chance at life.

This November 21st from 5:30 – 7:30 pm, The Arlington located at 7900 Arlington Circle (34113) will host a reception to learn about a second chance nonprofit called TAG A PET FOR A VET. Their mission blends the best of both worlds – connecting senior rescue animals with veterans. Space is limited so please RSVP by calling 239-228-3777 or for more information call the founder, USAF Veteran, Tina “Chickebee” Clark at 904-955-9387.


Moorings Park Grande Lake Celebrates Construction Milestone As Sales Remain Strong

The construction of the first three buildings in Phase 1 at MooringsPark Grande Lake started in late 2018. Now, approximately nine months later, officials at the Life Plan (CCRC) community have announced the buildings have hit the halfway mark in their construction, with one of the buildings celebrated during a topping off ceremony in early August.

“This construction milestone at Moorings Park Grande Lake is an exciting time for the development teams and our first residents, who are looking forward to moving into their beautiful new homes in Spring 2020,” stated Dan Lavender, CEO of Moorings Park,Institute, Inc.

A limited number of outstanding homes with incredible lake and golf course views are still available in Phase 1. Those who purchase in the first phase will receive a social membership to Naples Grande Golf Club, located within walking distance of Moorings Park Grande Lake.

The membership takes effect the moment residents take occupancy of their home and until such time as the Moorings Park Grande Lake Clubhouse is completed.

The membership includes golfing privileges on Naples Grande Golf Club’s18-hole championship golf course, as well as dining options in Naples Grande’s elegant clubhouse.

In addition, residents have access to Naples Grande Beach Resort and its Har-Tru tennis courts, fitness center and spa, resort-style pool and beach, and preferred pricing on hotel rooms and dining. Sales are also available in the community’s second phase, which hit the 50 percent sold mark in early July.

The floorplans available are the popular Brook model, which features a magnificent great room, master bedroom and bath separated from the guest suites, as well as private elevators that lead into residents’ private vestibules.

A spectacular penthouse residence is also available. Entrance fees at Moorings Park Grande Lake start at $1.5 million and are 70 percent refundable. Assisted Living, Memory Care and concierge healthcare are included.

Located on the south side of Golden Gate Parkway, between Airport-Pulling and Livingston Roads, the pet friendly Moorings Park Grande Lake is being developed by Moorings Park in partnership with esteemed London Bay Development Group.The community’s list of amenities is also impressive including its beautiful clubhouse.

As planned, its interior will feature casual and fine dining, a lakefront restaurant and bar, a state-of-the-art fitness center, including a best-in-its-class golf simulator, a theatre, and a salon and spa.

As planned, the exterior of the clubhouse will feature a resort-style pool with poolside bistro and cabanas, all overlooking the 28acre lake.

A few of the planned outdoor activities and amenities will include a yoga pavilion, walking paths, lakeside parklettes  with boardwalks, gardens, fire pits and overlooks, several birdwatching posts, and bocce and pickleball courts.

Also located within the clubhouse is The Center for Healthy Living, which is home to the community’s rehabilitation services, as well as the Care 360 concierge healthcare program, which was developed in partnership with NCH Healthcare System.

The Moorings Park Grande Lake sales gallery is open Monday thru Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00p.m. Visit MooringsParkGL.org, or call(239) 232-8409.

Legacies of the Guardians of Liberty

by Lois Bolin
Old Naples Historian

The book “The Greatest Generation,” by Tom Brokaw, has given rise to the naming
of a group of men and women who were born between 1914 and 1929. They grew up in
the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and then went on to rebuild a shattered
world. These humble folks should have been learning the lessons of youth, but instead they answered the call to squelch the spread of the world’s most ruthless fascists and defined sacrifice and duty through their actions, not their words leaving a legacy for those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of our country.

There were very few states as affected by WWII as Florida was in terms of growth. A quarter of a million Floridians either volunteered or were drafted for service, and 170 military bases were established or expanded all over the state.

In the years after the war, the population of Collier County, including Naples, swelled from 6,400  to 85,000 by 1980. This was in part because memories of the sun, the gulf and the charm of this
paradise lured them back to make Naples their home, imprinting their legacy of service throughout
our community.

Peter Thomas History Fund A legacy is defined as a gift left to someone or anything handed down from
the past. While many may see legacy as related to wills and trusts, I prefer to see legacy as what gives our lives meaning.

Make no mistake, a nice financial inheritance appropriately planned to ensure the intended recipients  benefit more than a spend happy Congress, make life oh so nice; but what if that gift of blood, sweat and tears was accompanied by life lesson and the wisdom found therein. Naples is home to many of these legacies such as renowned voice over artist Peter Thomas and Dr. Franklyn Johnson, author of
“One More Hill”.

These Patriots recognized the need to tell these legacy stories in 2006 and picked up the gauntlet, in cooperation with Collier County’s communication department, to capture oral histories from these sentinels of liberty who were living among us. These 80 WWII oral histories can be found on Collier
County’s website.

Two additional legacies Peter left are a PBS special called “Those Hallowed Grounds,” which tells the story of America’s overseas military cemeteries and how the United States and those countries keep faith with our fallen heroes; and the Peter Thomas History Fund, housed at SWFL Veterans Alliance,
which supports Collier County students, grades 6-12, who advance from the Collier County History Fair to the Florida History Day competition.

Keeping the Spirit of 45 Alive December 7, 1941 is a date that is said would live in infamy. Conversely, so should August 14, 1945 – the day that marked the close of the mightiest struggle humankind has ever seen. A generation, who had experiences that pushed them to their ultimate limits, has also given America life lessons we need to pass down to our families to subvert the ‘cultural amnesia’ that is afflicting America today.

To honor this day, the 10th Annual Spirit of ‘45 Weekend kicks off August 10, Saturday morning with
the Greatest Generation & Beyond Tribute at a new site, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, located at 625 111th Ave. N., Naples, FL, 34108. The new facility allows the expansion from 320 guests to 650 and larger stage production for their USO show.

A complimentary snack will be served to veterans and guests. The event opens at 10 a.m. with the program commencing at 10:30 a.m. followed by group photo and lunch. Following the traditions
of the past, all veterans and spouses are free, compliments of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and sponsors.

The commemoration concludes Sunday evening, with “Taps Across America” which will be held aboard the Naples Princess. Guests will board at 6 p.m., depart at 6:45 p.m. and return 8:45 p.m. All WWII veterans and their spouses are free. Limited tickets are $50 per person, which includes a program at
sunset, heavy hors d’oeuvres and one drink ticket. Reservations are required for both.

To receive an invitation to one or both, write swflveteransalliance@gmail.com or call 239-597-2978.


Ret Lt Col USAF Jack Mercer

Ask Ret. Lt. Col. USAF Donald “Jack” Mercer how he  wants to spend his 94th birthday? Celebrating with family and friends in Naples – of course on the 4th of July-his birthday.

A true American Patriot born on the 4th of July was destined to serve our country: Jack was born on a farm outside of Limestone, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1925. After graduating high school at Clarion-Limestone  Consolidated High School, near Strattanville, Pennsylvania, Jack enlisted in the United States Air Force on April 17, 1943, as an aviation cadet.

Jack served as a command pilot in the United States Air Force, a Veteran of World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. His many awards include: the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Commendation medal, the Distinguished Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Korean Service Medal with two arrow heads and six battle stars, the ROK Presidential Unit Citation.

Jack is a triple rated pilot, bombardier and navigator. One of his favorite assignments was his 6 years in the Presidential Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base (now Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling), flying for President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, American and foreign dignitaries throughout

North and South America. While in the Air Force, Jack also flew secret missions for the CIA, ask him today about them and he will tell you he took an oath of secrecy. After 27 years of serving our country, Jack retired in 1970 and moved to Freedom Plaza at Sun City Center, Florida.

Jack enjoyed Sun City Center playing golf, visiting his friends (where he was also known as the Mayor) and texting his family members. In 2018, Jack relocated to Naples where he is closer to his family and friends. Jack is making new friends at Brookdale Naples. Jack’s 94th birthday celebration is going to be spent with family and friends at Brookdale Naples with a good old-fashioned American picnic and fireworks-fitting for a true American patriot.

Happy Birthday Ret. Lt. Col. USAF Donald “Jack” Mercer!!!!