Nothing could stop U.S. Army Sgt. John Wright from receiving the French Legion of Honor award on Thursday.
Despite being taken to the emergency room Thursday morning, Wright joined nine veterans who were recognized for helping to liberate France during World War II at the sixth annual French Legion of Honor award ceremony held at the Collier Athletic Club.
Wearing his military jacket, Wright stood from his wheelchair and walked to the podium with the help of his son to be honored with the medal — a five double-cornered star enamelled in white, joined with branches of laurel and oak with a medallion in the center.
Wright, who served as a combat medical technician in the 4th grade 137th Infantry of the 35th division under General Patton’s 3rd Army Division, earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Presidential Unit Citation.
“I had a job to do,” Wright, 90, said. “It was in the field doing surgery.”
Wright received a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd of about 65 family and friends.
“I’m just tremendously proud of him for what he did,” said Wright’s son, Clint Wright, 61, a U.S. Army Veteran who served five years in the Vietnam War. “He never bragged about his service even though he saved hundreds of lives.”
The French Legion of Honor ceremony was one of several events held on Veterans Day in Southwest Florida:
■ One hundred American flags lined a sidewalk at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs as more than 200 people paid tribute to America’s military veterans.
The 80-minute Veterans Day memorial service included a 21-gun salute, three-camp drumroll, the playing of taps, the laying of the wreath and the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
After each ceremony, veterans in the crowd were asked to stand and be recognized.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these are my heroes. And I hope they are your heroes also,” said Dennis Boland, of the American Legion National Executive Committee, his voice cracking.
The City of Bonita Springs Veterans Advisory Committee sponsored the ceremony, along with VFW Post 4254 and American Legion Posts 303 and 388.
“I thought it was the best they had ever had,” Rosemary Putnam, 64, of Bonita Springs, said of the event. Her husband is an Air Force Veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
“I think they did a wonderful job. It was very emotional.”
■ Several hundred people gathered in Cambier Park in Naples around 10 a.m. to honor local veterans.
The two-hour ceremony included a performance by the Golden Terrace Elementary School “Toucan Troubadours”, an honor guard presentation by the Barron Collier High School JROTC, personal accounts from veterans who have served in WWII, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and the most recent war in Iraq.
In addition to the sounding of the chime and the riffle salute by the Marine Corps League Ritual Team, the family of the late U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Robert John “RJ” Newton, who recently died in combat in Afghanistan, was given a folded American flag and the first look at Newton’s name added to the list of fallen local servicemen engraved on the war memorial in Cambier Park.
Following the sombre morning ceremony, people migrated several blocks away to watch the USO Show and enjoy refreshments at the Naples Railroad Depot.
■ Just as the sun set in Naples on Thursday two flaming barrels placed in bushes at Freedom Park were being used to burn retired American flags in honor of Veteran’s Day.
Nearly 75 participated in the ceremony. Children and parents folded the flags in the appropriate triangular manner and passed them to a fireman, who used a piece of wood to help him place the revered fabric into the fire.
Children lined up clutching the flags to their chests, ensuring they stayed off the ground, as nearly 400 tattered and torn old American flags were prepared to be retired.
“An old flag should be retired with dignity and respect,” said Thomas Birch, Boy Scout Master of Troop 243, to the crowd just before the rites began. “There are two methods to retiring a flag, by burial or by flame. It is not being burned, it is being retired, it represents a symbol of America’s heritage, a symbol of courage.”
This was the 9th year Troop 243 hosted the retirement ceremony.
John Henning brought in about 30 flags to retire.
Henning, who is retired from the Army, watched his son conduct the evening as the master of ceremonies for his troop.
“My father was in the army and both my grandparents,” said John Henning’s son Jack. “It’s something to be proud of.”
French Legion of Honor Award presented to the following Veterans:
■ Robert Cooney, a first class solider in the 86th division of the 343rd Infantry regiment
■ Eddie Deerfield, a technical sergeant in the 3508th Army Air Forces Base Unit Squadron “A”
■ William French, a combat liaison officer in the 675th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
■ Robert Grannis, a commander in the 1542 Infantry Unit
■ Joseph Kelley, a corporal of Headquarters Company of the 263rd Infantry, 69 Division
■ Paul Kramer, a private first class soldier in the 29th Division of the 175th Infantry Regiment
■ John MacPhee, a private first class solider in Company B’s 16th Infantry — 1st Infantry Division
■ John Warner, a sergeant in Company “F” 35th division, 134th Regiment
■ Kurt Wasserman, a private first class solider in the 35th division, 134th Infantry Regiment
■ John Wright, a technician in the 4th grade 137th Infantry of the 35th division