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.

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