When the war in Afghanistan started nearly 10 years ago, Pete and Diane Clinard put a yellow ribbon outside their home in Peridia thinking the troops would soon be coming home.
But in the intervening years as the war wore on, they had to replace the original yellow ribbon many times.
They saw first-hand the human cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after Pete, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with cancer.
The couple spent a lot of time at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg, where they saw wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.
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“It was so sad to see them so young and so battered,” Diane said of the wounded warriors.
Unfortunately, Pete died about two years ago, and his remains now rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Like the Clinards, their neighbors at Peridia, Dominic and Marilyn Passaro, were moved by the heroism and sacrifice of America’s warriors.
Marilyn Passaro suggested that the Peridia social committee host an event to support U.S. troops.
But a former Peridia neighbor now living in Texas said her active duty military son suggested doing something instead for the families of the warriors.
He suggested a benefit for the Fisher House Foundation.
The foundation provides “comfort homes” on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers, including Bay Pines.
“These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times -- during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury,” according to the www.fisherhouse.org.
The Passaros embraced the idea, and spearheaded the benefit for Fisher House Foundation.
They worked for months with a dedicated committee and put together a raffle, golf tournament and dinner.
Dominic and Marilyn have met some of the wounded warriors and been profoundly moved by what they have seen and heard.
Dominic chokes up when he remembers what he has seen.
“I get emotional,” he said.
“Pinky” Vittorini, a committee member, said the benefit was slow taking off because no one knew about Fisher House. In calling local golf courses for rounds of golf to auction, she said Bradenton Country Club was the only one that knew about Fisher House.
Once people learned about Fisher House, they supported the effort enthusiastically. “Interest grew and people wanted to help,” Diane Clinard said.
Dominic Passaro said when the committee first went to work, he thought it might generate a nice tidy little sum of about $5,000.
It seemed like little enough the committee could do, he said, considering the sacrifices of America’s warriors, and the sacrifice their families must make along with them.
The Passaros, who had never done a fundraiser, ultimately raised $15,375.59 for the Fisher House Foundation with a lot of help from friends and neighbors.
But that’s not the end of the story. An anonymous donor in Miami matched the grand total, raising it to more than $30,000 and the national Fisher House Foundation offered another match for a total of nearly $60,000. The money will go toward a new comfort home in Florida.
“We were overwhelmed. We never expected to have such a turnout and to raise so much money,” Marilyn Passaro said.
“I always have this burning desire to pay back for all the blessings we have had. This was the answer for all my prayers,” she said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.