Marco vets hailed

  • ‘You know, Purple said, ‘there are lot of them who are just white crosses now. They paid’

Among the pomp and ceremony that marked the Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday on Marco Island sat a group of VIPs among all the other VIPs.

They were a small group of World War II veterans, each of whom received an extra special token in the form of a tiny vial of sand scooped up from Omaha Beach, one of five five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.

The vials were secured by veteran and American Legion Post 404 Commander Lee Rubenstein, and contain roughly the same number of grains of sand as the number of Allied casualties during that time – 4,414.

World War II veteran Chuck Purple displays a vial of sand scooped from Omaha Beach, and presented to fellow veterans of his era at the Veterans Day ceremony on Marco Island.

One of those WWII veterans was Chuck Purple, 90, a U.S. Navy coxswain who served in the South Pacific from 1943-1946.

Working as a winch operator loading and unloading ships, Purple originally tried to enlist when he was 17, but was rejected because of a problem with his right eye.

So he waited until he was 18, and was drafted.

“When they drafted, they didn’t care about things like that (his eye), they took everybody who had warm feet,” Purple said. “We were at war.”

As for the brotherhood that envelops veterans from any conflict you’d care to mention, Purple said he feels a kinship.

“I feel good for any veteran. You feel proud for a guy who’s a veteran. You feel close and patriotic to the other fellow; they all served and they all did what they had to do.”

At this stage, Purple paused, deep in thought.

“You know,” he said, “there are lot of them who are just white crosses now. They paid.”

The 11-11-11 ceremony at Veterans’ Community Park featured the National Anthem sung by Rose Kraemer, a civil air patrol fly-over, a POW-MIA ceremony, the reading of the names of Marco veterans who died in the past two years, patriotic songs by the Morning Musicians of Tommie Barfield Elementary School, music by the Marco Strummers and the special presentation of the Omaha Beach sand.

Guest speaker was Air Force Capt. Wayne O. Smith, a POW.

See a gallery of the ceremony on this website.