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Cape vets honor fallen in Wreaths Across America

By Staff | Dec 17, 2013

Wreaths Across America is celebrated nationwide, but in Cape Coral they go the extra mile to honor those who have fallen in service of their country, some at sea where their bodies could never be retrieved.

Many of the area’s veterans gathered at the Cape Coral Yacht Club Saturday morning to honor the fallen, as well as the POW/MIA, for a touching Wreaths Across American ceremony that started at Horton Park, made its way to the Yacht Club, and ended three miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, the only floating wreath laying in the country.

Dennis Cherney, a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, said the wreaths event started a decade ago at Arlington National Cemetery and has grown to more than 900 cemeteries nationwide.

“It was designed to put wreaths on the headstones of those who served our country. It fanned out to other cemeteries. This one is done in the Gulf of Mexico,” Cherney said. “It was the first on-water event.”

Cherney said the ceremony honors those who died at sea as well as others who died in service.

Pat and Nancy McCarn put the program together and stressed the importance of this event.

“This is the fifth time we’ve put on this event and we’re trying to honor those who were lost or buried at sea,” Pat said. “We’re the first floating location in the United States, we’re tied in with Reach Across America and there are more than 900 cemeteries that will perform the same service on land.”

Things started at Horton Park, where 70 Patriot Riders were given a police escort to the Yacht Club, along with a SuEllen Floral Co. truck which supplied the seven wreaths adorned with flowers, as opposed to most which are adorned with red bows.

The seven wreaths represented the five divisions of the military, as well as the Merchant Marines and the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Larry Ager performed the invocation and former Cape Coral city manager Terry Stewart sang the national anthem.

Former Cape Coral mayor John Sullivan and ABC-7 news anchor Courtney Robinson, whose father was killed in training in 1994, spoke before a flag ceremony was held, with it being given to Margaret Gordon.

The wreaths were then brought to the boat by representatives of each of the military branches as bagpipes played, closing out the land portion of the ceremony.

The flotilla of Sheriff’s Office boats, fire service and others headed into the gulf to lay the wreaths in the water at noon, to the playing of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard as it left the shore.

“Pat McCarn has put in a tremendous amount of time and money and dedication to this program,” said David McDonough, education officer for the Coast Guard Auxiliary. “The only one resembling this is the one on Pearl Harbor at the USS Arizona.”

Among those who dropped the wreaths was Fame Academia, a Navy veteran who was born in the Philippines and came to the United States after World War II.

“I’m proud to be an American representing my service to the Navy,” Academia said.

“It’s a greater day for us, the patriots who have the freedoms we have because of the sacrifices of those veterans,” Ager said. “We remember those today whose bodies are interred in the water who never got to return home. Their families never got closure and today we give them that chance and embrace them and their sacrifices.”