Alachua County held its annual Veterans Day celebration on Tuesday at the Alachua County Veterans Memorial in Kanapaha Park. The celebration focused on welcoming home returning service members of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
There are currently almost 22 million veterans in the United States with around 18,000 living in Alachua County, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
Teresa Turner, a transition patient advocate, said that a disconnect exists between active duty service members and their transition to the VA.
“It’s a lack of factual information about their eligibility,” Turner said.
Forest Hope, a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, remembers his experience returning home as a difficult one, especially because of protestors.
“Whenever you get out, you no longer have that team. You’re back as a [individual] person again.” Hope said.
The Alachua County Veterans Memorial honors 267 fallen veterans that entered military service in Alachua County and 504 University of Florida students who died as a result of war.
Ken Sassaman, a former corporal in the United States Army, said he remembers the Korean War as if it were yesterday. On the day the truce was signed, he said, he could hear rounds being fired, then all of a sudden, total silence.
Sassaman said participating in the Veterans Day celebration helps him continue being a “part of what helps keep America free.”
“It was the greatest thing in the world because we knew the war was over and we’d be going home,” Sassaman said. “My wish would be that there would be no more war.”
The celebration featured skydivers, a flag ceremony, a wreath laying ceremony and musical tributes of “America the Beautiful” and “Marches of the Armed Forces” from the Ft. Clarke Middle School Band.
Terry Martin-Back, who served in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, said he came to the celebration to commemorate the soldiers and their stories.
“These are my brothers and sisters in arms,” Martin-Back said. “I am here to remember them.”