Veterans Day honors all U.S. veterans who served honorably, and this year, Florida is recognizing one of the leaders of the Manatee County veterans community.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer Donald Courtney, 76, a 30-year Army veteran who led the Manatee County Veterans Council for a decade, has been inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame.
Courtney is the second Manatee County resident to be inducted into the hall of fame. The first was Carl Hunsinger, an Air Force veteran who led the Manatee Veterans Council for three years.
Courtney enlisted in the Army in 1961 when he was 17, trained for two months at Fort Bliss, Texas, married his high school girlfriend, Donna, and shipped to Korea.
“I grew up in northern Indiana, where you either go into the steel mills or a farm. I wasn’t having any of that,” Courtney said at his Palmetto home.
He served as a supply sergeant in Vietnam from 1966-67 and became a warrant officer in 1974. He served three tours of duty in Germany during his career, which also took him to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Monmouth, N.J., Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the University of Wisconsin for ROTC duty, Fort Meade, Md., and Fort Monroe, Va.
Retired Army Col. Gill Ruderman, who prepared the hall of fame recommendation, said that Courtney’s mantra since retiring has been to continue serving.
“Primarily through his extended involvement with the Manatee County Veterans Council, he is recognized as the face of veteran activities in the county. Being an active member of many organizations is significant in itself, but the depth of his involvement clearly demonstrates his passion and remarkable dedication to the cause of helping veterans,” Ruderman wrote.
Courtney served as commander of the Military Order of the World Wars for six years, Region VI commander of the Military Order of the World Wars for two years, and as current president of the Military Officers Association of America, Bradenton Chapter. He is a member of the Sarasota National Cemetery Advisory Council, and a member of American Legion Post 24, DAV Post 18, VFW Post 10141 and others.
He is also chairman of the District 8 Omsbudman program for Manatee and Hillsborough counties under the Department of Elder Affairs.
Courtney’s involvement with veterans activities began when retired Air Force Col. Larry Bustle, the former mayor of Palmetto and a former Manatee County Commissioner, invited him to join the veterans council.
“There couldn’t be a better person selected to the hall of fame. He’s carried veterans causes to a great extreme,” Bustle said.
Lee Kichen, a retired Army officer who served with Courtney on the Sarasota National Cemetery Advisory Council, called the honor well deserved.
“He is a truly respected soldier and community leader,” Kichen said.
For his part, Courtney said he was surprised when he learned he had been selected for the veterans hall of fame. Courtney was one of 16 veterans from around the state selected by the governor and Florida Cabinet for the hall of fame this year.
The Veterans Day service at Palmetto’s Sutton Park, 1036 Sixth St. W., is set for 11 a.m. Monday. Kichen, who served as state service officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and as the VFW’s state legislative chairman, will be guest speaker.
Veteran of the Year Les Martin and Auxiliary Member of the Year Theresa Cob will be introduced during the service.
About 11:30 a.m., the Veterans Day parade will start at the Manatee County Fairgrounds in Palmetto and proceed to Sutton Park. Niki Humphrey-Molinar of the Tropicana Valor Group is this year’s grand marshal.
Also planned for Veterans Day in Manatee County:
▪ Retired Army Col. William Michael Thurmond will be the featured speaker at Westminster Manor Retirement Communities annual Veterans Day observance at 1:30 p.m. Monday at 1700 21st Ave. W. in Bradenton. A practicing attorney, Thurmond was a medevac pilot and served as a battalion commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Open to the public by RSVP at 941-748-4161.
▪ The Roskamp Institute, 2040 Whitfield Ave. in Sarasota, is hosting an open house with a special invitation to veterans and active duty military at 10 a.m. on Monday. The open house will highlight the work at Roskamp on traumatic brain injury, Gulf War Illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A tour of facilities, research workshop and lunch will be provided. For more information or to RSVP, call 941-752-2949 or email email@example.com.
▪ The public is invited to the dedication of the Colony Cove Veterans Monument at 10:15 a.m. on Monday outside of Harmony Hall, 7615 Lakeshore Dr. in Ellenton.
▪ Manatee Habitat for Humanity and Our Next Mission are hosting an event called “A Celebration of Service” from 6-9 p.m. Monday at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, 7051 Wireless Court, Lakewood Ranch. Southern BBQ will be served and “Nothin’ Past Midnite & the Dave Lewis Singers” will perform live music. Tickets are $50 and are available at manateehabitat.org. The event sponsor is Budweiser and proceeds benefit Manatee Habitat Veteran Home Rehab Program.
▪ CareerSource Suncoast will host its seventh annual Paychecks for Patriots job fair at USF Manatee-Sarasota’s Selby Auditorium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday. The job fair will be open to the public but the goal is to connect veterans and their family members with career opportunities. This job fair is in partnership with CareerSource Suncoast, University of South Florida | Sarasota & Manatee, and State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. For more information on this event, or to preregister, visit https://careersourcesuncoast.com/event/p4p-jf/
▪ Let Freedom Ring ceremony to thank veterans will take place at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at Freedom Elementary School, 9515 State Road 64 E. in Bradenton. This year’s celebration will include student speakers and tributes to our armed forces, POW/MIAs and first responders through song, raising of the flags and ringing of the Freedom bell. Freedom Elementary’s “Let Freedom Ring” courtyard is a permanent installation to honor those who have served or are currently serving. Flags representing the various branches of the military surround the American flag in the school courtyard. The entire school will gather to sing, wave flags and say thank you to veterans.
▪ Although not a Veterans Day event, it is noteworthy that World War II veteran Bill O’Brien, 95, of Bradenton, recently published his book. “Life of a Dogface WWII Combat Infantryman.” The book details O’Brien’s experiences fighting his way across Europe. After the war, O’Brien became a teacher and principal in Manatee County. The book is available on amazon.com in Kindle and in paperback.