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Veterans Day to step off with parade
November 7, 2019

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The largest celebration for veterans in Southwest Florida can be found right here in Cape Coral.

The Cape's annual Veterans Day Parade is set to step off onto Cape Coral Parkway Monday at 11 a.m., and march from Southeast 15th Avenue to Chester Street.

Veterans Day is a special time to reflect on all of the men and women who have served our country across all spectrums of the United States Armed Forces, and to celebrate and commemorate their sacrifice to ensure the freedoms we have today as Americans.

Parade organizer Linda Biondi said this year's cavalcade will be the biggest celebration of our country's heroes in Cape Coral to date.

"It's a great way to be patriotic," Biondi said. "It's a great way to show your country that you love it, and you love the people that were there to protect you."

This year's Grand Marshal is retired Army Lt. Colonel Anthony "Tony" Newton Stout.

Stout, the husband of Cape Coral Councilmember Marilyn Stout, served for 27 years, 20 of those in Special Forces. He received the Bronze Star and 11 other medals for his service, including the Vietnam Gallantry Cross.

"It came as a great surprise to me to be chosen," Stout said. "It's very humbling.

"It's a great honor to be chosen for it."

Stout spent many years of his service overseas and abroad, something he said he enjoyed immensely. His favorite place, he said, was his time in Latin America.

"I enjoyed my time in Latin America very much," Stout said. "I had to learn to speak Spanish fluently. I picked it up there."

Stout spent time in Germany, Panama, Iran, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Vietnam.

"It was some of the best times of my life," Stout said of his time in the military, which he remembers fondly. "I got to go to a lot of places and do many things people don't get to do."

Stout said he did a lot of teaching in the military as well, such as training foreign allied forces to join American troops in their efforts.

The Lt. colonel said he created friendships and bonds with many comrades, and still keeps in touch with some today.

"I keep close track with my old friends," he said.

Stout has marched in past Veterans Day celebrations, but this one may hold a special place in his heart.

"It's a great event each year," he said. "It awakes the pride and patriotism people have in their hearts. I want to give my best wishes to other veterans and young people serving our military today."

Biondi feels Stout was a great choice to be this year's Grand Marshal.

"His story is amazing. We're so happy to be able to honor him," she said.

A plethora of local veterans and their organizations representing all branches of the military will fill Cape Coral Parkway, along with countless members of the community who want to show their support.

Participants will include: American Legion Post #90, Cape Coral Elks Lodge #2596, DAV Chapter #108, Harney Point Post #8463 VFW, Hearts & Homes for Veterans, Knight of Columbus Assembly 2115, Korean War Veterans SWFL Chapter 155, United States Submarine Veterans Barb Base, Vietnam Brotherhood Bravo Company, Vietnam Vets of America Chapter 594 and more.

"We've got everybody," Biondi said.

The parade will begin with the North Fort Myers High School 26-member all female choir singing patriotic tunes at the "reviewing stand" on Vincennes Boulevard and Cape Coral Parkway. After the national anthem, a flyover will take place and the Grand Marshal will lead the parade down the parkway.

More than 500 JROTC students from across Lee County Schools will march in the parade.

Special Pops also will be walking in the parade and selling beautifully crafted patriotic-themed bows.

"They're making them and selling them, decorating the streets," Biondi said. "It's awesome."

Bows are $5 each or 5 for $20.

Jay Ganzi, general manager of Cape Coral Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram is sponsoring the Special Pops ribbons and trolley, so the group could fundraise.

Ganzi is also providing the vehicles for city council and youth council in the parade.

The Cape Coral Police Department, Fire Department and the Lee County Sheriff's Office will have vehicles in the parade.

Local Boy Scout troops, the North Fort Myers High School and Ida Baker Marching Bands, Veteran Barn Door Project, the Cape Coral Animal Shelter, Cape Coral BMX, Caloosa Jeepers of SWFL, Palmetto Pine Country Club, SWFL Military Museum, and many, many more will participate.

Restored vintage military vehicles motoring down the parkway to patriotic music along side veterans is sure to drum up a feeling of pride.

"It's a down-home, small-town parade in a big city," Biondi said. "Everybody has a veteran to celebrate. Everybody wants to celebrate all of them. We are the biggest and the best celebration of our veterans in the Southwest Florida area. It gives me a warm feeling inside to be able to put this on every year."

All of this wouldn't be possible without the work of Biondi and her volunteers, who have been providing Cape Coral with this celebration for more than a decade.

"We've got a group that has been together now for quite some time," she said.

"Come out, wave your flags, be patriotic, sing the songs with the chorus -- just have a good day. It's a good day to be an American."

* Midpoint Madness

If you're not too tired after all of the Veterans Day festivities, or had to work and couldn't get out to the parade, there's a chance to get those feet moving and pay tribute to military members by taking part in the Midpoint Madness 5K run/walk.

The 3.1 mile race, beginning at 7 p.m. Monday evening, starts and finishes on the Fort Myers side of the Midpoint Bridge, as runners will get the unique experience of crossing over to Cape Coral and back.

"This is a great race," said Joey Belanger, Lee County Regional Director for the The SKY Family YMCA, who is putting on the run."We expect more than 500 runners in this year's event, and it is a great way for us to honor our nation's veteran's on this important holiday."

Registration up until Sunday is $30 for adults, $25 for Youth and $20 for veterans (with military I.D.). Race Day registrations will be $5 more per grouping.

Belanger said this particular race course is a fun challenge for all involved.

"The Midpoint Bridge provides a challenging, yet entertaining run experience with the incline going up the bridge and the decline on the way back," he said. "We don't get many hills in Southwest Florida; this provides that."

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Fort Myers YMCA youth and family scholarship program, something Belanger said helps countless youngsters throughout the county every year.

"The Fort Myers YMCA serves thousands of children throughout the Lee County area each year," he said. "Many of these children would be unable to attend our programs such as summer camp, after school, youth sports, gymnastics, and others, without financial assistance the 'Y' is able to provide. We pride ourselves on not turning anyone away for a proven inability to pay. Events like the Midpoint Madness 5k raise money towards this important financial assistance program."

A contrast from the usual 5K setting, this run/walk takes place at night, which may provide a "cooler" atmosphere for participants.

"It is a great change of pace to your traditional morning runs, but also the race always takes place on Veterans Day, so we do not want to close the bridge in the morning or during the day when the event is during the work week," Belanger said.

Winners and awards will be based on gun time and chip time. Divisions are broken down into male and female, as well as age groups. There will also be a military grouping.

Registration and details can be found at www.ftmyerstrackclub.com. Packet pickup and in-person registration can be found at the Fort Myers YMCA at 1360 Royal Palm Square Blvd.

* Military Museum

The SWFL Military Museum & Library will host a Veterans Day lunch from noon until 2 p.m. at the museum.

Lunch is $8 and includes a pulled pork sandwich, cole slaw, baked beans, a drink and dessert.

Live entertainment will also be happening throughout the afternoon.

The SWFL Military Museum & Library is at 4820 Leonard St. in Cape Coral.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

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