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Guest Commentary: World War II Veterans Day event needs help to continue
July 24, 2019

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This is my ninth year as Lee County Chairman for the nationwide initiative called Spirit of '45, honoring our World War II veterans and ensuring their legacy is kept alive.

Meeting these wonderful men and women of our greatest generation has been an honor and a privilege. That honor and privilege, however, also comes with sadness through the loss of so many of these men and women over the years. It has become personal to me, as I have formed relationships with many of our World War II veterans and their families and every year I never know if this will be the last year that I am going to be able to hold this event.

Last year, as I was about to "throw in the towel," the media stepped up and helped me in spreading the word. Two years ago, my numbers dropped and it concerned me, as I had to believe that this was the beginning of the end.

Miraculously, people read about the dwindling number of World War II veterans and realized that I needed help to spread the word and in financial support to keep this initiative afloat. It has become increasingly difficult, forcing me to ask - again -- for that same support this year. I realize that I can't do this alone.

The response to just one story last year was more than I could have hoped for. I received calls from World War II veterans who never heard of the spirit of '45 initiative. I received calls and emails from family members of World War II veterans wanting to send their family members to the event. New sponsors emailed and/or called me. There were previous attendees who wanted to help sponsor so that this initiative could keep going. There were previous attendees signing up to attend last year's event and refer new World War II veterans. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.

Receiving calls last year from World War II veterans, new to the Spirit of '45, left me with the feeling that I still hadn't gotten the knowledge of this initiative out far enough. I know that more members of our greatest generation are still out there and haven't heard of this program which honors them. I have a belief that "it only takes a tiny pebble to create a huge ripple." I want to be that pebble.

I am reaching out to ask for help to get the word out. Please don't make this another year where family members tell me that they wish they would have heard about this while their World War II family member was still alive. It happens too often and their stories need to be heard and preserved; their legacy needs to live on.

Spirit of '45 is celebrated nationwide and the second Sunday in August was Congressionally resolved to be National Spirit of '45 Day. The Lee County event being held Aug. 11 is an elegant sit-down dinner to start, followed by a veterans' ceremony, a presentation of Colors along with the Pledge of Allegiance and a singing of the National Anthem. There will be World War II veteran guest speakers, entertainment, Amazing Grace played on bagpipes, A flag-folding ceremony, wreath ceremony, POW/MIA (Missing Man table) ceremony and so much more.

The ceremony will end with the Honor Guard firing off three volleys and echo Taps being played. It's powerful and altogether moving.

You have to realize that this initiative has an expiration date, as our World War II vets are passing at such a rapid rate. But that doesn't mean that I can't do everything in my power to keep it going for as long as I can and to ensure that their legacy stays with us. I would like to see every person who knows a World War II veteran refer them to me to attend this event.

The dinner/ceremony is at the Sanibel Harbour Resort/Marriott in Fort Myers. Dinner starts at 4:15 p.m. and the ceremony should end around 7:15 p.m.

I won't be able to grow this event without your help. I have various sponsorship levels for business sponsorships which range from $50- $1,000. The various levels will provide advertisement in the program and, for some of the levels, tickets to the dinner/ceremony.

We started a new sponsorship level last year for personal sponsors. It is called "Sponsor-A-Vet," where you can sponsor $25 to pay for a World War II veteran's meal and you can have your name or the name of a specific World War II veteran listed in the program.

I will keep striving to keep The Spirit of '45 alive and sincerely hope that this article reaches all whom it is intended to reach. Please feel free to call me, Eryka Aptaker, at (917) 607-4385, or email me at eja3090@comcast.net.

You must make reservations to attend. The last date for reservations is Aug. 4. Seating is limited, so please do not wait until the last minute. World War II veterans and members of our greatest generation are FREE. For all others, the cost is $25 per person. Payment will be needed prior to the event.

-Eryka Aptaker is Lee County Chairman of the Spirit of '45.

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