A special event to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War conflict will be held today in Cape Coral, with a long list of distinguished speakers and remembrances.
Local veterans of the Korean War will be honored at the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Ceremony.
Ralph A. Santillo is the founder and president of Invest in America's Veterans Foundation, a local non profit group hosting the event.
Cape Coral resident and Korean War veteran Bill McCarthy stands in the “War Room” at his home where he keeps countless pieces of memorabilia from his time as well as family members’ times serving the United States’ military.
Top photo by MICHAEL PISTELLA
"We are expecting about 50 to 75 Korean War vets. We have a list of over 200 but many are out of town," he said.
They all will receive special certificates from Washington. Those not at the ceremony will get their certificates mailed to them.
"Our total motto is veterans helping veterans," Santillo said of the Invest in America's Veterans Foundation. "We assist veterans in any of their needs, whatever they need."
The organization is based in Cape Coral.
"We opened up our headquarters on Sept. 11, 2009 in Cape Coral on Del Prado Boulevard. This is the first of this type of event for us. This commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Conflict, also known as 'the forgotten war'," Santillo said.
The event will be held at the Tarpon Point Marina Ballroom, with the ceremonies beginning at 11 a.m.
"The keynote speaker is Edward Ko, who is actually from South Korean," Santillo said. "He served as a spy for us during the conflict. He's very well known and respected obviously by our Korean Veterans."
Another speaker is from the Department of Defense -Commander John O'Brien.
A participant will be the local ambassador for the Department of Defense, Bill McCarthy. "He is one of our Korean War Veterans here, a Cape Coral resident. He's the liaison between Washington and here."
McCarthy shared his memories of the Korean War.
"The first thing I always think of is the mud," McCarthy said. "Everything was flooded, bridges were out. It was all mud. It was the Korean War.
"I was in the service from 1950 to 1954, in the Korean Theater in May of 1952."
He just revisited Korea for the first time a few weeks ago.
"We had 171 in our group, veterans and their families. I was there for eight days. I saw now a lot of it is concrete, and I believe they have one of the best economies in the world," he said.
"The government of South Korea treated us royally. They took us to all the historic sites of the Korean War."
He said one was a museum that has bronze markers on walls with the names of all the Americans that lost their lives there.
"When we saw what they had done we were in awe."
He said he is looking forward to the event.
"I thank all my buddies that are still here, and hope to see them at the event," McCarthy said.
He grew up in upstate New York, and after his military service met his wife Jeanette.
"When I was back a buddy took me on a ride to the beach where I met her. I married her right away and we've been married 57 years."
Another veteran who shared his experiences is John Weliver, USMC.
"I served in Korea in 1951 and 1952. The lasting impression I have is cold. Coupled with that, it was the only place in the world that snow was on the ground and dust in the air. We had to wear goggles because of that," Weliver said.
Weliver will be attending the ceremonies.
"It was war. The memories are distinct for the rest of my life. They come back to remind you," he said.
Besides Korea, he also served in Vietnam. "It was a different kind of rough," he said. "It was hotter than cold.
The event is free and open to the public. If you choose to attend the luncheon, that is $25.
"We figure it will last about two hours," said the foundation's Santillo. "Then there is a luncheon, but it is not mandatory."
He also is a veteran, serving from 1955 to 1961. "That was between the Korean War and Vietnam."
He talked about Invest in America's Veterans Foundation.
"At the foundation, we hold a luncheon every Thursday at our headquarters for Korean and WWII veterans. We actually invite all veterans to attend. We want all veterans to come in.
"We also have food for any homeless veterans that come in, any time, and groceries for them to take home."
The Invest in America Veterans Foundation is headquartered at 3100 Del Prado Blvd. The phone number is 541-8704.