Guest opinion: Celebrating, thanking veterans for service to our country, community

Andrea Sieradzki
 |  Special to The News-Press

Veterans comprise nearly 8% of Cape Coral’s total population, a rate exceeding many communities across America.

If Cape Coral is a mecca for veterans, then Gulf Coast Village is the capital. Nearly 25% of the retirement community’s 303 residents are veterans of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

At 101, retired Army Air Corps veteran Ed Watson is among Gulf Coast Village’s oldest residents and senior veterans. The Baltimore native was one of the first 100 Americans drafted into service for WWII and was a B-17 pilot who completed 25 missions over Germany. After the war, he worked as a pilot for Eastern Airlines before retiring at age 60. Watson has lived at Gulf Coast Village for nearly 13 years, starting in independent living before relocating to Palmview, a dedicated assisted living facility.

Watson, known for his ever-present sense of humor, responded concisely to a veteran questionnaire asking about his greatest accomplishment.

“Longevity!” he wrote.

This year, Veterans Day events will be limited across Southwest Florida, including Gulf Coast Village. However, the community is still celebrating and thanking its veterans for their service during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and other conflicts and periods in U.S. history. Gulf Coast Village also is home to veterans who served other nations, including retired members of the British Home Guard and Royal Canadian Army.

“We have veterans in their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and, in Ed’s case, 100s,” said Kevin Ahmadi, area director of operations for Volunteers of America, which sponsors Gulf Coast Village. “They are living, breathing textbooks of American history. It’s so fascinating to sit down with our veterans and listen to their unfiltered descriptions of war and military history that make you appreciate what they endured to preserve our freedom.”

Years ago, Gulf Coast Village formed the Band of Brothers, a group of veterans who met regularly to swap stories and enjoy the camaraderie. It’s now the Band of Brothers and Sisters as female veterans have joined, making it one of the largest social groups at Gulf Coast Village.

More: Cape Coral military museum to close Wednesday; new homes needed for artifacts, veterans services

“There is such a strong camaraderie among veterans that is difficult to understand unless you’re a veteran yourself,” said Senior Pastor Bob Inkenbrandt, an Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War. “The brotherhood and sisterhood are very strong here.”

Veterans can be found across Gulf Coast Village’s full continuum of care, which includes independent living, assisted living, specialized memory support, skilled nursing, home health and rehabilitation services.

Nationwide, the youngest WWII veterans are now in their low 90s. Gulf Coast Village still has several WWII veterans in independent living and assisted living residences, in part because of a robust wellness program that includes physical and social activities, vocational opportunities, and programs that support intellectual pursuits, spiritual reflection, emotional health and environmental awareness.

“With COVID-19, the election, the economy and other issues, veterans really haven’t gotten their due this year,” Ahmadi said. “We need to make sure that our veterans feel appreciated and celebrated on Veterans Day and every other day of the year.”

Andrea Sieradzki is the area sales and marketing director at Volunteers of America, the sponsor organization of Gulf Coast Village, a continuing care retirement community in Cape Coral.

error

Enjoy our news? Please spread the word :)