Wounded veterans enjoy visit to Port of the Islands

By MELANIE L. BENFIELD (Contact)
Originally published Friday, October 31, 2008

NAPLES — A little “R&R” was provided Friday in Collier County to some veterans who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cliff Naylor, post commander of the VFW District 10129 in North Fort Myers, brought 27 injured veterans from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Georgia to the Port of the Islands Resort and Marina for a special weekend hosted by Sunstream Inc.

The soldiers range in age from 21 to 57.

Naylor stated in a press release that about 30 years ago, concerned citizens took him and other wounded soldiers to Miami for much-needed “R&R.”

He wanted to extend the same favor by bringing vets from Iraq and Afghanistan here.

Army Staff Sgt. Hosea Lark led the group of veterans here from Fort Gordon, Ga. These veterans have spent an average of six to 12 months hospitalized.

“We definitely enjoyed it. It was so heart-warming to see our fellow Americans welcome us home and show their love and appreciation,” Lark said.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office escorted the wounded veterans from Norm’s Restaurant on Friday, with pomp and circumstance to the Port of the Islands.

The veterans were greeted by the Lely High School Band and JROTC along with representatives of Palmetto Ridge High School.

Everglades City Sons of the Confederate Veterans Camp 2150 provided a cookout lunch for them at the marina.

“All the men had smiles today,’’ Lark said. “They are really thankful and really enjoyed the festivities. It’s been great!”

Once a soldier is sent overseas, Lark said, the friendly faces in America or that hug of appreciation is what is missed most.

Americans can help make a soldier’s life easier by sending letters, cards or care packages, he said.

“It is inspirational to the soldiers — keeping their morale up and makes the mission more successful,” Lark said. “I feel like the American people have supported the veterans tremendously, especially since 9/11.”

Melanie Bridger, hotel manager at the Port of the Islands Resort and Marina, said this is important to the veterans. They are treating the veterans to a complimentary stay from Oct. 30 through Nov. 3.

“Just to hear them say that they did not realize how many Americans really do care was wonderful.” Bridger said. “I thought the community really came together to honor these veterans.”

Plans for the remainder of the weekend include visits to some local restaurants and a fishing trip on Sunday.

“After the weekend, some of the veterans will be returning back to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center and some to Fort Gordon for continued treatment,” Lark said. “If soldiers recover fully, they return to their mother unit and are redeployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.”
© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.

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