Stories of Valor show pays tribute to veterans at McKechnie Field

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 13, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Hundreds came out to McKechnie Field on Saturday to pay tribute to those who have served our country.

Many seats were filled by veterans of all the branches of service who call Bradenton or Sarasota home.

For the Stephens family, Saturday's USO-style show, "Stories of Valor: Honoring Veterans, Troops and their Families," was truly a homecoming.

"I think it's an awesome event, especially in a place like this," Mike Stephens said.

Only home a month, Stephens, a new Army veteran after serving three tours in Iraq, came to the show with his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law.

His wife, Jennifer Stephens, is also a veteran after having served four years in the Coast Guard.

"Any time you do something like this is amazing," he said. "We obviously don't ask for it, but we appreciate it more than words can say. "

His mother-in-law, Laura McCall, learned of the event and wanted to support the organization it benefits, Manasota Operation Troop Support (MOTS), which helped

send packages to members of her family as well as so many other local service members overseas.

"They are an amazing organization," McCall said.

The show was put on by Realize Bradenton and the Patterson Foundation's Legacy of Valor Campaign.

Members of the audience brought in items for MOTS care packages to be sent to troops who are serving.

Bradenton mayor and veteran Wayne Poston introduced a show he happily welcomed.

"I'm an Air Force veteran, so this is especially special for me," Poston said before the show.

Poston was also very happy with how the city came together for the special tribute.

"Our partners, our community all came together, and everybody is here honoring our veterans," Poston said.

Veterans, their families and community members were entertained by the Victory Bells, the National World War II Museum's vocal trio, from New Orleans.

Before the show, the trio mingled with crowd as they watched many of the other local performers featured.

"It's such an honor to be here, it's such a fantastic event," Mandi Ridgdell said. "We travel around the world performing."

Ridgdell, and fellow performers Cristina Perez and Tiffany Jones were feeling very welcomed since arriving in Bradenton.

"It's beautiful, everybody has been so nice," Ridgdell said. "We had such a nice lunch on the ocean."

Organizers were overwhelmed with the turnout Saturday.

"It's wonderful when you see how the community came out to honor veterans, to inspire patriotism and embrace freedom," said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton.

Debra Jacobs, president of the Patterson Foundation, was thrilled to be at Saturday's event, she said.

"We always like to do one-of-a-kind events," Jacobs said. "What I'm really excited about is all the collaboration here in Bradenton, which is over the top. People chip in, work together and create awesome experiences."

George Rupert came to Saturday's event with his wife Joan, to honor her and other veterans.

"I always come to Pirates stadium for the baseball games," he said. "My wife was in the service, I never got to go."

For him, paying tribute to veterans is very important.

"If it wouldn't be for them, we wouldn't be here, " he said.

For Joan Rupert, Saturday's event was a proud reminder of five of the best years of her life, she said.

"I rode in a Black Hawk, I traipsed up the side of buildings," she said. "I had a great time."

The National Guard veteran is also a retired nurse.

"To see all these veterans and the valor and pride they have," she said. "Just look up at the flag up there, it could just make me cry."

Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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