North Port St. Joe waited 26 weeks for the 5,216 pound monument honoring the community’s veterans to be shipped to Florida.
Now, it stands proudly in front of the Zion Fair Baptist Church, where it was unveiled on the Fourth of July in a ceremony that honored the service and sacrifice of the veterans whose names are etched into the granite monument.
“We salute all veterans everywhere, wherever they may be,” said Circuit Judge Elijah Smiley, who led the July 4 program. “But we believe it to be worthy, on this occasion, to erect a permanent monument to reflect the service of our family and our friends from our community.”
The project, spearheaded by Smiley along with officers and members of Zion Fair Missionary Baptist Church honored veterans from North Port St. Joe who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Organizers began gathering names of the community’s veterans around October, 2021. There are 318 currently listed on the monument, and Smiley expressed that he suspects names will have to be added as time goes on.
“We are aware that there may be names that are not on there because we did not have the information, but we have a process for adding names,” he said. “Every Veterans Day, we will add additional names.”
During the ceremony, Service Awards were resented to several local veterans.
One of the recipients, William James McNair, Sr., an Army veteran who was 102 when he passed away on September 26, 2021, is believed to have been the last World War II veteran from North Port St. Joe. Family members were on hand to receive his award.
Receiving an award named in honor of SSGT Clifford Chester Sims, a North Port St. Joe veteran who received a medal of honor after giving his life during an act of heroism in the Vietnam War, was Command Sergeant Major Sidney Weatherspoon.
Weatherspoon served in the U.S. Army from 1978 to 2010. During his service, he received 23 medals and accommodations.
“The unveiling of the North Port St. Joe Veterans’ Monument was truly one of the most touching and beautiful events to be held in the history of North Port St. Joe,” said Clarence Monette, who was in attendance.
Smiley told The Star that the event “was an opportunity for the community to express our appreciation for our heroes.”
“We want our children that walk the streets there to be able to go up to that monument and to be able to say ‘that’s my uncle’ or ‘that’s my dad’ or ‘that’s my mother,’” he continued.