By BETSY CALVERT Staff Writer
PORT CHARLOTTE — Progress took a big leap on Veterans Day at the Williams R. Gaines Jr. Veterans Memorial Park with the unveiling of a $100,000 check from a late World War II veteran.
The check is the largest contribution, aside from the Gaines family, toward the construction of a memorial tower honoring U.S. Marines who died in the 1983 bombing of the Beirut barracks.
William R. Gaines Jr. of Charlotte County was among those killed that day.
The donation is from the estate of James E. and Marian J. Pennoyer, residents of Charlotte County who left much of their estate to the Charlotte Community Foundation.
The foundation decided that as a veteran and prisoner of war in World War II, James Pennoyer would have wanted his estate used in this manner, said Justin Brand, director of community engagement.
Pennoyer was a pilot in the Army Air Reserve.
The park on Edgewater Drive was renamed after Gaines about five years ago and is evolving into a veterans and first responders landmark.
Veterans Day also marked the ceremonial groundbreaking on two other memorials, one for military veterans and one for first responders.
The Gaines family has been fundraising for those memorials, which are now paid for. The tower is not yet paid for, however, said Gaines’ younger brother, Michael Gaines, of Tampa.
He said the Gaines Foundation is now working with the Charlotte Community Foundation to find ways to cover the cost of the memorial tower that has been designed for the site. It will tell the story of those Marines and others who died in the nation’s worst terrorist bombing at that time.
The foundation and the Gaines family hope the memorials in the park will encourage veterans and their families to tell their own stories, said foundation Chief Executive Officer Ashley Maher.
“It’s a story of untold stories,” she said.
The cost for the tower will be steep, and the two foundations are hoping for federal grants to help with the cost, Maher and Gaines said. Donations are welcome at www.wrgainesjr.org.
The youngest voice of the day was from 6-year-old Jordis Hart of the Brewster Baker Society Children of the American Revolution.
“A lot of kids do not know how important our military was and is,” Jordis said. “I believe every day should be Veterans Day.”
“Oo rah!” said the Marine Corps League in unison.
Also speaking was Sheriff Bill Prummell; Amanda Mocanu, one-day retired U.S. Air Force; state Rep. Michael Grant; Fire Chief Jason Fair and Gaines, an Army veteran.
Prummell spoke of the role of law enforcement as peacekeepers.
“They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” he said. “We will always be there to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves, to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves,” he said.
Announcement of the donation came at the end of ceremonies mastered by County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch, a coast guard veteran and driving force behind converting the park into a veterans memorial.