Florida will reach a historical milestone this August, along with the rest of our nation, sparking the memory of a debt we had always heard we could never repay.
August 14, 1945, President Harry Truman announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, effectively ending World War II. Both August 14 and August 15 have been known as “Victory over Japan Day” (V-J Day) as well as September 2, 1945, when Japan’s formal surrender took place aboard the battle-weary U.S.S. Missouri.
The United States’ efforts during World War II drew heavily on Florida’s strategic positioning, its people, and its resources. Over 250,000 Floridians volunteered or were drafted into the armed forces. Thousands flooded Florida to support the 170 plus military bases and training sites.
After the war ended, a grateful country began welcoming home liberty’s heroes. Floridians left their farms and towns as young men and women and returned as seasoned citizens. Those who came to Florida to train left with the memories of a paradise – a place they would someday call home. Seven decades later, this generation’s economic legacy for Florida can be viewed from the vantage point of the millions of WWII veterans who chose Florida as their new home. Today, our WWII heroes amount to less than 248,000.
Ronald Reagan said that we should be strengthened by our Greatest Generation’s courage and heartened by their valor so let us stand for the ideals for which they lived and died. While we have heard we can never repay this debt, perhaps the most significant way we could is to stand for those principles. Yet, those very ideals, which once commanded great loyalty, are in danger of being taken for granted or worse – forgotten.
A small victory for this legacy occurred this past March when the House of Representatives passed “The Victory Florida Year” resolution to honor these sentinels of liberty by promoting Florida’s role in WWII. I am proud to have been the initiator of this resolution and the 2013 “Spirit of 45” Florida Legislative resolution, which followed the 2010 U.S. Congressional resolution to make the 2nd Sunday in August the official day to remember the ending of WWII and the legacy of a generation who defeated the greatest tyranny the world had ever known.
Two months after the passing of the Victory Florida Resolution, aboard the USS WASP on the 70th Anniversary of VE Day (May 8), another partial payment was made when the DOS launched Victory Florida Southeast in a grand ceremony.
Special guests included WWII Veterans, the Broward’s Convention Visitors Bureau, and the French and British Consul Generals.
Two days later, at the Tallahassee Capital building, the DOS, Visit Florida, Veterans Affairs and the Historical Resources division, officially launched the initiative in North Central Florida. On June 23, Naples Spirit of 45, Republican Women of Southwest Florida Federated and the Above Board Chamber of Florida held a reception at the Hilton Naples to launch Victory Florida Southwest, which is made up of eight counties.
In attendance from Punta Gorda, Major General, Dick Carr Ret., as well as representatives from Estero and Ft. Myers. From Naples, guests included Mayor John Sorey, Jack Wert, Collier CVB, and Representative Matt Hudson. Guest of honor was David Prodger, British Consul General.
Victory Florida’s overall mission is to promote Florida’s role in WWII using three resources: a website, a WWII Heritage Trail guidebook, and collaborative partners, who will be the sustainable life force to bring Victory Florida to life. The website allows museums, memorials and related groups to upload their events for free. Here, local and international families as well as tourism and destination planners can view these events to plot their course using the online guidebook, which included 150 World War II related sites in 72 cities.
Currently, Florida is the only state with such a trail and guidebook. Now with the launch of “Victory Florida,” the state is positioned for an untapped economic opportunity, compliments of our Greatest Generation: to become a destination site for WWII aficionados.
The Greatest Generation never asked Americans to repay the debt incurred for preserving our freedom or for their efforts afterwards, which enhanced our quality of life and made the United State an exceptional nation. Victory Florida is our first payment on our installment plan to remember and highlight these ideals, which gives Floridians a way to “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive.”
PHOTO(S) COURTESY OF KENA YOKE