Within our midst lives a generation that took on evil in World War II, defending not just the United States, but Great Britain, France, Canada, Greece and others – millions of people from the tyranny of the Axis powers. They are frequently dismissive of their own sacrifices as young men and women and their numbers are fading. A growing number of Americans are working to make sure they are remembered.
“Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” is an ongoing campaign to ensure this generation’s legacy is never forgotten. Their efforts to “establish an annual day of remembrance and national renewal to remind America of the values and accomplishments of the generation who endured the hard times of the Great Depression, fought to defeat the greatest tyranny in history, and then went on to rebuild their shattered world in an unprecedented effort to help assure a better future for both friend and former foe alike.”
In 2010 the United States Congress unanimously passed a resolution designating the second Sunday of August as “Spirit of ’45 Day.” The day was chosen to commemorate August 14, 1945 – VJ or Victory over Japan Day and the end of World War II.
Beginning in 2011, local ceremonies have marked the day. This year, Lee County will celebrate Spirit of ’45 Day on Sunday, August 11, 2019 beginning at 4:15pm at Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort with a tribute to WW II veterans including dinner, Color Guards, Guns N’ Hoses Pipes N’ Drums performance, a wreath service, POW/MIA recognition and Echo Taps. Dinner will be served from 4:15 – 5:45pm, followed by the WWII Tribute Ceremony from 5:45 – 7:15pm.
Veterans of WW II and their spouses of the WW II generation may participate for free. For all others the cost is only $25/person. Reservations are required by August 1, with payment due by August 4. Call Eryka at 917-607-4385 for reservations. All are welcome. Last year 350 people attended the event, over 100 of them WWII vets and 150 veterans of the Greatest Generation.
Eryka Aptaker, the Lee County event coordinator since its inception in 2011, is looking forward to the event honoring veterans and encourages the entire community to join them.
Last year, she shared her thoughts on the ceremony. “An emotional moment for everyone is during the playing of “Echo Taps. “One musician begins ‘Taps’ on a bugle, then another one joins in a second or two later, giving it an echo affect. It is magnificent and we save it for the very end; it is so powerful, there is hardly a dry eye when they are done. It follows another tear-jerking performance, when bagpipers perform ‘Amazing Grace,’ while outside is a volley of rifle shots.”
Eryka unabashedly admits, “I love World War II veterans and their families. I stay in touch with so many of them, like they are my own family. Each year I look around and think about who will no longer be with us the next year, and that breaks my heart. Some will get sick, some will move back to their families, and others will sadly pass on, and it takes a while to get over that sensation.”
Recognizing the shrinking population of WWII veterans, Eryka acknowledged prior to last year’s event, “There probably won’t be many more Spirit of ’45 dinners, as we are losing World War II veterans by roughly 400-per day, with the average age now around 93-years-old. My goal is to continue the event for 2 more years, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of the war. Emotionally, it will be hard to walk away, but death is a fact of life, and this is a fact of life, but they will have to carry me out sobbing! These World War II veterans mean the world to me!” Over the past 9 years, Eryka’s prime mission has been to “get the word out to every single World War II veteran, so that they and their spouse can participate, and we can thank them for their service. Nothing breaks my heart more than when I hear from the family of a World War II vet that they just learned about us, and how their family member would love this, but they died last month or last year, so please, spread the word, so we can include every single World War II veteran remaining in Southwest Florida!” ‘For information on the national Spirit of ’45 program see www.spiritof45.org.
“Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” will be held Sunday, August 11, 2019, 4:15-7:15pm at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort, 17260 Harbour Pointe Dr., Fort Myers. To make your reservations call Eryka 917-607-4385 by August 1, 2019.
By Missy Layfield
Gary Mooney contributed to this article.