By Natalie Strom
The Veterans Day Ceremony at Veterans’ Memorial Park on November 11th was certainly one to remember. Special Guest Speaker, General James K. Guest, would definitely agree. During his speech he explained to the large crowd why this particular Veterans’ Day was so special to him.
“Veterans’ Day is a day to remember the life-long friendships that were forged on the battlefield. This is one of the greatest benefits of being a veteran,” General Guest told the crowd. With that he invited two men onto the stage, both who served under him during the Vietnam War. VFW Commander of Marco Island, Jim Lang, and veteran John Kutay joined Guest as he continued. The story that unfolded next was truly inspiring.
In 1966 General Guest was Captain of the Company both Lang and Kutay served in. As Lang explained, “We threw (Kutay) on a chopper one night never expecting to see him again and he survived even after taking eight to nine rounds from an AK-47.” After nine long months of being “put back together,” according to Kutay, he was finally released from the hospital. Forty-four years have passed since that time and General Guest had never seen him since.
While helping to plan the Veterans Day Service and new Memorial Dedication to the Veterans’ Community Park, Jim Lang decided to plan a surprise for his two friends from service. He invited General Guest to speak at the event, not informing him that Kutay would be there. At a dinner hosted for the General the night before Veterans Day, Guest and Kutay were reunited. It was a long-awaited moment for both soldiers.
“After 44 years, I just can’t even tell you how I feel. I’ve thought about (Kutay) over the years many times. He was a great soldier,” explained Guest. According to Kutay, the reunion “was very warming.”
The rest of the ceremony and dedication held the same sentiment. The Morning Musicians of Tommie Barfield Elementary sang a number of patriotic songs, waving their American flags high, in salute to the many veterans present.
The Marco Island Strummers played the songs of all five military branches while veterans of each stood to be recognized.
Perhaps the most awe-inspiring moment came as Anna Schilling sang a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Mid-song a group of four military fighter pilots flew over the new Veterans’ Memorial, sending chills of patriotism and pride throughout the crowd.
These unforgettable moments were shared with one of the largest crowds Marco Island has seen during a Veterans Day celebration. As the ceremony came to a close, many in attendance took their time leaving as they were admiring the dedicated pavers along the path that leads to the new Memorial.
Veterans Day is a day of remembrance. We remember the soldiers who risked their lives and the soldiers who lost their lives in order to allow us the freedoms we have as Americans.
The Memorial Dedication and Veterans Day Celebration certainly kept that spirit alive. It is one that many will never forget, especially for General Guest and his fellow soldiers and friends, Jim Lang and John Kutay.