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Veterans Descend Upon Capt. Hirams!

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Tania Ortega-Cowan is a photo-journalist who grew up in Indian River County and spent many summers all along Indian River Drive in Sebastian. She remembers Capt. Hiram’s early beginnings and witnessed its soulful evolution into the resort destination it is today. Tania says, “I have focused my entire career covering positive human-interest stories and community heroes, so when my friend and Capt. Hiram’s marketing director Kimball Stadler asked if I wanted to profile some of the Veterans from the Space Coast Honor Flight’s monthly luncheons held at Capt. Hiram’s, I jumped at the chance!”

VETERANS DESCEND UPON CAPT. HIRAMS! 

It is a beautiful, blue sky day as I arrive at Capt. Hiram’s to meet the Veterans at the Space Coast Honor Flight (SCHF) luncheon. Right out front are officers Donald Hart and Jason Gillette of the Sebastian Police Department, who are there each month to make sure Veterans get across the street and into the luncheon safely.

Kimball greets me in the gift shop of Blackfins Riverfront Grill at Capt. Hiram’s.

“Our founder Tom Collins’ great uncle was Sgt. Hiram Collins, a World War II soldier who died on the beaches of Normandy,” she says, leading me toward the open-air luncheon area overlooking the Indian River. It is bustling with Veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Korea. “Hiram had a great love for the sea, so that is why Tom Collins named the restaurant after him when we first opened in 1986.”

How did I not know that, having lived here nearly my entire life? Now it is clear why Capt. Hiram’s has always been so generous to veterans by offering 10% off to Veterans and active military, celebrating Military Appreciation Month each November, and hosting the monthly SCHF luncheons.

“We are a military family,” says Kimball.  

The feeling in the room is that of a military family as well. The energy is buzzing, the conversations spirited and noisy. Every so often, laughter rings out and rolls across the room. The setting is the perfect paradise. Palm trees sway as cool fresh air gently breezes in off the water which is literally sparkling with sunshine.

The first person I meet is Bill Welser, SCHF president. He sets the jovial, relaxed tone by immediately giving us each a beautiful Space Coast Honor Flight coin, and while explaining how if you don’t know have your coin handy that you might have to buy everyone drinks, he tricks Kimball and gets her coin back.

“Uh-oh, now you have to buy the drinks,” he jokes before giving the coin back to her. He then brings his comic style to address the group, making ordinary announcements interesting and funny. Everyone is having a great time!

Welser is a retired Air Force lieutenant general, and president of SCHF whose mission as an Honor Flight hub is to take World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam Veterans to visit their War Memorials in Washington D.C. to show gratitude. Safety and dignity is their top priority and each veteran is paired with a guardian escort and has a wheelchair available, and they travel with a medical doctor and videographer. 

Veterans must apply, and priority is given in this order: critically ill veterans, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, then recent wars. SCHF holds the monthly luncheons so that Honor Flight alumni and veterans can connect and socialize. There are 131 other similar groups in the United States.

I spent the next two hours having some of the most fascinating and enjoyable conversations with Veterans and we will feature their stories right here on this blog. Sign up (LINK HERE) to receive automatic updates when new stories are posted!

Something everyone I spoke to could agree on, is that they love Wesler and that their Honor Flight was the highlight of their lives. I also got to chat with some of the 18 Treasure Coast Honor Flight committee members. 

Lou Seiler serves on the SCHF Board of Directors as Videographer and goes on all the flights. He retired from the Air Force in 1989 after 20 years. “Vietnam was my incentive for joining the Air Force,” he explains. His first experience with Honor Flight was as a guardian for his father who is a WWII veteran.

Jim Maxner is a volunteer for SCHF and is a former board member. He served for 7 years with the National Guard Army. “I had four uncles in WWII and all survived,” he says. “One was a B-17 pilot who was shot down and spent 23 months in a POW camp. He spoke fluent German which he kept a secret from the guards. Some of the prisoners were making escape tunnels and he overheard that the guards were onto it, so he was able to warn them, and they shut it down before they could be caught.”

Russ and Mary Ann Livermore joined the committee two years ago. Russ is a Navy and Vietnam veteran, having served from 1955 to 1977. Originally from Minnesota, Russ says, “As a kid I was a Sea Scout, and it just went from there.”

I asked Mary Ann if she too had served in the military. “No, but I might as well have,” she says with a laugh. 

That’s all for today. Come back for our next installment featuring WWII Veteran Clarence “Korky” Korker!

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