PHOTO GALLERIES: Southwest Florida keeps the Spirit of '45 Alive during tributes to WWII vets

A WWII plane flies over the Naples Pier during the Spirit of '45 Taps Across America tribute held at the pier on Sunday evening. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

Photo by JASON EASTERLY // Buy this photo

A WWII plane flies over the Naples Pier during the Spirit of '45 Taps Across America tribute held at the pier on Sunday evening. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

With a generation of heroes nearing the end of their lives—a national movement hit Southwest Florida this weekend to “keep their spirit alive.”

Ret. Cpl. Calvin O’Rourke, 86, sat at Crescent Beach in the sweltering Sunday afternoon heat with shrapnel still in his chest from being hit with mortar shots while serving in WWII. O’Rourke, who served in the sixth Marine Division 22nd Regiment, said he wishe he could serve in Iraq or Afghanistan now, so nobody else would have to die.

“America should send their greatest. They should send us because when we get there, then they’ll just die laughing,” the Cape Coral resident said of foreign enemies. “They’ll die when they hear America’s sending its finest and that we’re all old people. Then we won’t lose all our young people.”

That’s the spirit of the WWII veterans that was celebrated at events held over the weekend, including Sunday at the Naples Pier and on Fort Myers Beach.

Keep the Spirit of ‘45 Alive is a national nonprofit initiative to establish the second Sunday of August as Spirit of ’45 Day, the day that WWII ended. There were about 500 public events held across the country this weekend.

Lois Bolin, chairwoman of Florida Spirit of ‘45 and co-founder of Naples Backyard History, said the increased appreciation for these members of the “greatest generation” comes just before it’s too late.

“We’re losing them at 1,000 (deaths) a day,” Bolin said. “The reality — boom — it’s hitting us. When things get bad, we all get reflective. Where the country is today, we need to draw upon their strength.”

At 102 years old, Rev. Frederick Nelson, walked onto the beach near Naples Pier on Saturday, refusing to use his walker. Nelson served with the Navy’s 118th Seabee Battalion.

Flyovers of WWII era planes by the Marco Island Civil Air Patrol, including a T-28 flown by Marco Island resident Mitch Thorstenson and a Cessna 182 flown by pilot Bob Berlam and copilot Rich Stagg marked the closing of the tributes at Naples Pier.

The Naples Concert Band played Taps at 7 p.m., as did bugle players nationwide.

A Lee County Sheriff’s Office helicopter swooped down low to bow to the U.S. flag waving from the top of a firetruck’s extended ladder at Fort Myers beach.

The tributes to the heroes and their spirit of strength through the Great Depression, WWII and the rebuilding of America are marked nationally using the famous photograph of a Times Square kiss between a WWII veteran and a nurse, Edith Shain, on August 14, 1945.

Doris Pells, 89, came to Naples Pier on Sunday to honor her husband, WWII veteran Harry Pells. However, Harry Pells wasn’t there. He died 11 years ago at age 78.

Doris Pells was a hero of another sort — a true Rosie the Riveter — working in a plant building war materials, she said.

The events honored these women along with people who offered to sacrifice their lives in active battle.

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