Sanibel celebrated all military veterans Monday in front of City Hall, a ceremony attended by almost 300 veterans, family members, friends, relatives and other non-military guests.
There was patriotic music performed by the Big Arts Concert Band directed by maestro Michael Lamade as guests arrived and picked out places to sit for the ceremony.
"It was the largest gathering we ever had, of course that includes the kids and the band," said City Manager Judie Zimomra.
Veterans and their family members with flags in their hand sing patriotic songs during the Veterans Day ceremony.
Douglas Quelch of the Military Officers Association (MOAA) of America, Lee Coast Chapter, introduced the Sanibel Police Department's color guard detail for the raising of the U.S. flag, which was lowered to half staff.
After the Pledge of Allegiance and playing of the National Anthem, retired Sanibel Community Church pastor Rev. Ed VanderHey gave the invocation and MOAA Chaplain Rev. Woody Stemple read an appropriate passage from scripture.
Quelch then recognized honored guests and dignitaries, among them Sanibel City Council members Marty Harrity and Mick Denham, City Manager Judie Zimomra, Police Chief William Tomlinson and State Rep. Ray Rodriguez.
"This is the largest crowd I've seen at this event," said Denham, who has attended Veterans Day on Sanibel for 10 years.
Quelch shared some history about Veterans Day, which was designated for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month long before it became a national holiday. Later, Retired Lieutenant General Gary Speer carried through the meaning of remembering our veterans, both the aging ones and the younger ones who recently served and those now serving.
"These truely are the best this nation has to offer," said Speer. "Only about one percent of the population serves in the military. Most recruits are turned down because of a lack of education or physical fitness."
The Lee Community Youth Chorus directed by Debby Dorr led the gathering in singing patriotic songs including the anthems of each branch of the military, God Bless America and My Country Tis of Thee.
Sanibel Planning Commission vice chair Dr. Philip Marks added, "It wasn't just old folks attending. I'm a veteran and it was nice to see a number of younger people, some with young kids."
Three special young guests were singled out for their achievements. Children were asked to write an essay on the topic of "Why do veterans deserve our support, respect and understanding." Quelch, who read and helped judge all of the essays, introduced the two winning entries by Sarah Jarlowe for sixth graders and Aaron Rose for seventh graders, each reading their winning essay. Sarah Adler acknowledged the applause for her Pride and Patriotism Contest winning mini-documentary on Iwo Jima.
Several veterans in attendance agreed to share their emotional remembrances of their time in the service.
The ceremony, which lasted just over one hour, closed with the playing of Taps for all those who have lost their lives in the service and since. In his final comments, Quelch thanked everyone who attended to honor our veterans and those who helped organize the ceremony.