The organizers of the Forgotten Coast Wounded Warrior Weekend want you.
After a year hiatus the Forgotten Coast Wounded Warrior Weekend arrives again in Gulf County next Wednesday when 20 warriors and caregivers, along with two veterans serving as mentors to the warriors for the event, are welcomed from around the country.
The community’s opportunity to offer a warm embrace –in the form of waving flags, donning the red, white and blue and saluting the warriors for their service – comes the following day.
As a prelude to the Honor Banquet at the Centennial Building on Thursday night, the warriors and caregivers will be ferried into town from WindMark Beach in a parade.
The caravan will leave WindMark Beach at 5:30 p.m. ET and travel U.S. 98 to First Street in Port St. Joe.
At First Street the parade will turn left and take an immediate right to travel down the Reid Avenue business district to Cecil G. Costin, Sr. Blvd. (State 71).
At State 71 the vehicles take another left and then a right at Long Avenue for the trip down Long to the Centennial Building.
Residents and visitors are encouraged to line the parade route to salute the warriors.
“In Port St. Joe you can feel it is out of pure thankfulness, nothing more,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, who will be returning this year as a mentor.
“Sometimes that can get lost in translation, but it is good the warriors are there for as long as they are because they can see it is sincere. It is such a unique experience. People in Port St. Joe put aside all their differences to put on something special. It touches you on a personal level.”
The Honor Banquet, at which Army Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta, who was severely wounded in Afghanistan, losing his sight among other injuries, will be the guest speaker.
“I’m honored,” Acosta said. “I can talk to the warriors because I can relate. I live it every day.”
The following day, Friday, the warriors will be escorted to the Port St. Joe Marina for a 7 a.m. ET start to the fishing tournament that defines the Forgotten Coast Wounded Warrior Weekend.
The warriors will be leaving the marina near Jetty Park – another opportunity for a community salute – in the boats of captains who have donated their time, vessels and supplies to the event.
The day of fishing will end with a gathering at 5 p.m. ET at the marina which will be followed by a private dinner for warriors and captains at WindMark later that night.
The warriors and caregivers will spend Saturday enjoying the sights and experiences of Gulf County – shopping, fishing, an excursion on the Dead Lakes, the Tupelo Honey Festival in Wewahitchka and horseback riding among activities on the itinerary – before departing on Sunday.
The Forgotten Coast Wounded Warrior Weekend is not free and is immeasurably aided by the monetary donations from the community.
Bluewater Outriggers and Duren’s Piggly Wiggly are currently selling Forgotten Coast Wounded Warrior Weekend t-shirts. The cost is $12 for XXL and $10 for all other sizes.
A limited number of tickets are also still available to attend the Honor Banquet at the Centennial Building. Tickets are priced $25-$50 depending on level of financial participation in the event.
But the impact can be priceless, as Acosta noted from his experience.
The wounded warrior events provide, Acosta said, a respite from the life changes that accompany catastrophic injury in war, if even for a day on the water, an afternoon on the beach or a quiet meal with men and women, and their caretakers, who understand and empathize with what those changes.
“When I went on a fishing trip for wounded warriors, for one week I did not feel pain whatsoever,” Acosta, who lives in constant pain, said. “I was relaxed. There was no stress.
“These events reduce stress for the warriors. It is huge for us partaking in events like this.”