By Eve Rosen
On Wednesday, June 6, the American Legion Chris Reyka Memorial Wellington Post 390 held its annual veterans open house at the Wellington Community Center.
Held on the 74th anniversary of D-Day — the key turning point in World War II when Allied forces landed on the beach in Normandy in the southern part of occupied France — the open house was a chance for local veterans to see what services are available to them in Wellington. Many of the veterans who participated were new to the area, but it was for all veterans in the community.
The evening featured guest speakers who discussed the services offered to veterans and raised awareness about the American Legion.
There were approximately 20 vendors available to offer assistance. Homes for Heroes, Paws4Liberty and My Community Pharmacy were just a few of the vendors present.
All the contact information for these services were listed in a program guide, which allows the veterans to reach out to them whenever they are needed.
The open house was led by Jim Napuli, the commander of Post 390. He opened the event, presented an award to a scholarship recipient, and later closed the event. The Pledge of Allegiance was said by Loren Heistand.
Napuli introduced the honorary speaker for the event, Henry Tocci. Tocci, a U.S. Marine Corps Korean War veteran, was also supposed to speak at Wellington’s Memorial Day ceremony last month, but the service was shortened due to rain.
“We, as the American Legion, commit ourselves to making our country a better place in which we are proud to live,” Tocci said. “We feel that in doing so, we make our contributions to the idea that those individuals who made the supreme sacrifice, reached a better world.”
Tocci read the poem “In Flanders Fields” to commemorate those that have fallen in the line of service. He also read “An American Prayer,” a piece given to him by the group Veterans Assisting Veterans.
After Tocci’s speech, Napuli asked for a moment of silence for all those who lost their lives on D-Day. “I would also like to bring up that today is D-Day, June 6, which was one of the most significant operations in U.S. history, where many U.S. troops’ lives were lost,” Napuli said.
After the moment of silence, Napuli introduced Wellington Vice Mayor Michael Drahos and Councilman John McGovern, who gave their own thanks to the veterans for putting their lives on the line for their country to protect American freedoms.
“When I was a kid, I idolized athletes and movie stars, which at the time was important to me, but as I got older, my priorities have changed, the way I see things in the world has changed, and I have a greater appreciation for the bravery that is needed in a first responder and the bravery that is found in our veterans,” Drahos said.
Every year, Post 390 presents a scholarship to a member of the community using money raised through the annual Future Heroes golf tournament. This year, the scholarship was given to Maxwell Zimmerman and was presented to him by his grandfather, Ernie Zimmerman, a Vietnam War veteran.
After the presentation of the scholarship, Napuli opened the floor to the vendors and invited the veterans to walk around and see the many services available to them in the Wellington community and beyond.