BONITA SPRINGS — A lasting tribute to Vietnam and all veterans will now honor them every day in Bonita Springs.
After four years of fundraising and planning, the Bonita Springs Veterans Memorial Monument was unveiled Sunday during a special ceremony at Riverside Park along Old 41 Road.
Several hundred residents showed up for the afternoon program, including many World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans. Program organizer David Grossi said he expected five World War II vets to attend but 12 showed up.
"It's so great to have so many World War II vets here, I wasn't expecting this many, but it's wonderful to have them," he said. Grossi, a Vietnam veteran, is the chairman for the Bonita Springs' Veterans Advisory Board, the main group responsible for the new memorial.
Sunday's ceremony kicked off with a color ceremony featuring the Bonita Springs Fire Department and the Knights of Columbus, followed by a flyover from a Lee County Sheriff's Office helicopter and the release of a flock of white doves.
One of the program's main highlights was when the new monument's facade was revealed. As two JROTC members from Estero High School lifted the sheet from the granite slab, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered. The monument — composed of granite from the same quarry that helped create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — shows two soldiers helping a third, wounded soldier.
"This image is modeled after an actual photo from the war in Afghanistan. The genders of the soldiers are unidentifiable, they could be anyone, our sons, our brothers or our sisters," Grossi said.
"This monument will forever live on as tangible evidence of how this city recognizes the sacrifices of our veterans."
The Bonita Springs Veterans Memorial Monument bares the insignias of six branches of military service instead of just the traditional five. Grossi explained that the sixth emblem was for the Merchant Marines, who played a crucial role in World War II. Bonita Springs is home to several Merchant Marine veterans, so the Veterans Advisory Board thought it was important to honor their service.
The ceremony ended with a keynote address from Randy McConnell, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of seven Purple Hearts. McConnell started his address by explaining he comes from a long line of military service.
"My grandfather fought and bled in World War I, my father fought and bled in World War II," he said. "Both men were decorated heroes but they never talked to me about their experiences in combat."
The program concluded with a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps.