By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Days before this year’s Veterans Day tribute at Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park and Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Veterans Museum, veteran Joe Eletto was busy donating his time to help out in the museum and give tours to the visitors dropping by.
It’s important work, and especially so given that county funds “are in short supply to put people in here and to keep the museum open on a regular basis,” said Eletto, who served both in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army and is the founder of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee.
The museum, which had been closed during the coronavirus pandemic, reopened this year in time for Memorial Day. “But it’s only able to be reopened because of volunteers willing to sit in here and help out,” Eletto said. “So, a lot of veterans and volunteers come in and enjoy taking people around the museum. We go from the Spanish-American War and follow through, right to left, with the first world war, the second world war, Korea and Vietnam.”
The aim, Eletto said, “is to help people understand that freedom isn’t free, and that a lot of sacrifices have been made, a lot of lives have been lost, so we can enjoy the freedom that we have today.”
Outside the education is on a much broader scale, with an array of buildings, memorabilia and impressive memorials for a wide range of conflicts, offering a deep reflection of the depth and scope of military conflicts throughout the centuries.
In this setting the 59th annual Hillsborough Veterans Day Tribute at Veterans Memorial Park is set to begin at 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 11.
“Memorial Day is the time to remember those who have passed, especially through combat and paying the ultimate sacrifice,” Eletto said. “Veterans Day is all about honoring the veterans and what they’ve done and continue to do in our communities.”
The Newsome High School orchestra and JROTC drill team are set to perform. To accommodate 467 attendees, the old benches have been replaced with new stadium seating and overhead sunshades for comfort.
Set to be the keynote speaker is Col. Adam D. Bingham, commander of the 6th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill Air Force Base.
Of special interest this year is a World War II artifact of historical significance to Hillsborough County, which Eletto said in an interview Monday was in the process of being installed.
That would be the static scaled replica of a U.S. Army Air Force B-26 Marauder bomber. “It’s a scaled-down model, but still very big, and it’s in the middle of the World War II memorial area,” Eletto said.
Once nicknamed the “widow maker,” the Marauder bomber reportedly earned the best safety record among all American bombers. As for the Hillsborough County connection, during World War II, most B-26 crew members operating in Europe were trained at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Recognition at the park covers all six branches of the military, including U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. The newest branch, as of 2019, is the U.S. Space Force.
The outdoor Veterans Day’s Tribute, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., is free and open to the public, in a highly recognized park and facility. For the seventh consecutive year, the national Veterans Day Committee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has named Hillsborough County’s Veterans Memorial Park & Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Veterans Museum to its list of official regional Veterans Day sites, duly noted as “a recognition of excellence for patriotism and honor to our nation’s military.”
Rounding out the activities for the Nov. 11 event are cornhole games, music and refreshments. Veterans Administration representatives will be on hand with resources for military families and veterans, and, especially so, for women veterans.
The park and museum is at 3602 North U.S. Highway 301. During regular hours the park is open daily 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.HCFLGOV.net for more or call 813-635-8316.