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Military museum to hold vets photography day

April 17, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Southwest Florida Veterans Museum has decided it wants to keep track of the hundreds of veterans who make the facility part of their lives and preserve their memories before it's too late.

On Tuesday, the museum is going to hold a Veterans Photography Day, where they will take pictures of these veterans from all wars, including the Cold War, and collect facts on them so they can be archived.

Ralph Santillo, founder and president of the museum at 4820 Leonard St. and the Invest in America's Veterans Foundation, said that as many as 150 veterans, mostly from World War II and Korea, come to the museum for lunch every Tuesday.

"Some of them over the last few years have passed away or leave the area and we lose track of them," Santillo said. "We thought it would be a good idea to do an archive of the veterans who come and see us."

Santillo said the best way to do that would be to get some photographs of them, and maybe collect information and have it put in their system so that if someone goes in and asks if their grandfather went there, they can pull up his name and photo.

Santillo said this is important for many of the WWII and Korean vets, for even though Cape Coral has a large veteran population, those veterans are quickly dying off.

"We've lost about a dozen or so World War II veterans over the past year and we have no information or memories on them except our own," Santillo said. "We have a photographer go to the funeral. Why not have a picture of him and not just his casket?"

Santillo said there has been good response and expects a good crowd to come, since its during the day they serve lunch to veterans, and it's the day many of them get out of the house.

"They make an effort to get here, and if they can't get here, we make an effort to bring them here," Santillo said. "It's our history, and we're losing it faster than we want it to."

Werner Grabner, of the Destroyer Escort Sailor's Association, concurs, saying many of the World War II vets are lucky to be able to come out once a month, and their numbers are dwindling.

"We used to have a Southwest chapter and we folded because of the age group. We had 80 people involved, but nobody could do anything," Grabner said.



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