Salute to Veterans is a Labor of Love
- More Than 3,000 Attend Event at Bright House Field
By Jeff Berlinicke
CLEARWATER - Bob Swick and Shelley Bauer aren't even listed in the program. They spent more than a year organizing the Clearwater Veterans Appreciation Day that drew more than 3,000 people to Bright House Networks Field on Saturday, and Bauer said he didn't care. It was about the wounded veterans who occupied the luxury suites, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that paraded around the field. It was about the appreciation that Clearwater showed to its veterans at a time when the United States military is involved in a war on the other side of the world.
It was about showing kids that might not even understand the war, that freedom is worth fighting for and that an awful lot of men and women sacrificed their lives and limbs for the freedom that the kids enjoy today.
Swick was a captain during the Viet Nam war and earned the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
"He's quite a man,'' Bauer said. "He's been with us from the very beginning. He puts his heart into this and, to him and me; it's a labor of love. We don't get paid a cent and every year, we are just looking ahead to the next year. We do this because we want to, not because we have to.''
Bauer never served in Viet Nam, and never saw combat, but he served in the Marine Corp on the First Reconnaissance team.
Swick and Bauer organize the event for the Clearwater Veterans Alliance and they've done quite a job. Saturday's event highlighted the Coast Guard. The Veteran's Alliance is trying to have the City of Clearwater designated as an official "Coast Guard City.'' It isn't an easy task; there are only six of them in the country. Savannah, Ga., was denied its efforts last year, so it's a rare achievement. Bauer thinks the Clearwater group can make it happen.
"This isn't something you want to be just designated for,'' Bauer said. "This is important and a lot of cities have tried for this and not gotten it done. We want to get involved in as many projects as possible.''
The Veteran's Alliance is going all-out, Bauer said. They have already embarked on a marketing effort to the Coast Guard, offering brochures that give details on places to stay in Clearwater, restaurants and local schools. They have also earned the assistance of Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard.
"We are going to put this out in front of the mayor at the end of the year and see if we can get it done,'' Bauer said. "We have his support and it's a 90-day process. We are confident that, with his help, we can get the citation. It's important to us.''
Saturday's event highlighted the efforts. Donations, not yet calculated, poured in. Even $1,000 in socks were distributed to homeless veterans. The Alliance has formed an alliance with the Suncoast Boys and Girls Club and is donating flagpoles for both headquarters.
For the kids who attended - and there were plenty of them, participating and watching - the event made an impact, for a few hours drowning out the sounds of video games and i-Pods.
"I like what the soldiers did for us,'' Todd Paxon, 11, of Palm Harbor said. "My uncle was in a war and he came back but he said a lot of people didn't and that is really bad.''
Lindsay Springer, 14, of Clearwater, said she felt sad, but also said she doesn't really understand the war America is fighting right now.
"I know we have people fighting for our rights, but there are also people dying and I don't understand why,'' she said as the Girl Scouts took the field. "It doesn't seem right that we don't even know what we are fighting for.''
More than 40 "Wounded Warriors,'' took their places in the Bright House Field luxury boxes, most of them with hospital beds or wheelchairs. Many more sat on the mezzanine to participate. The biggest noise was made during the flyovers that followed a moment of silence. The Clearwater MJROTC and U.S. Coast Guard silent drill teams capped off the event.
Bauer said that next year, the U.S. Army will be highlighted.
"This blows us away,'' Bauer said. "To see the kind of respect our veterans get, that makes all the work worth while.''
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