Okaloosa County Celebrates its Military Heroes in 75th Air Force Anniversary

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By Doug Stauffer

Okaloosa County recently gathered together to celebrate the military, first with the U.S. Air Force’s 75th Anniversary celebration, followed the next day with a salute to several veterans inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame at the Northwest Florida State College Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville. The Hall of Fame event took place at Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach.

PHOTO by DOUG STAUFFER

Eglin Federal Credit Union and the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted both events. Boeing and Northwest Florida State College also sponsored the 75th-anniversary celebration.

Nine panelists discussed the role played by the Air Force during major events in U.S. military history. Topics featured many first-hand accounts from people involved in training for the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Operation Desert Storm, the Iran Hostage Rescue Mission, Osama bin Laden Raid, Vietnam War, Korean War, Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan and more.

The celebration included several special guests, including SEAC Ramón “CZ” Colón-López, the senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Retired Capt. Dale Dy, a decorated Vietnam War Marine. Dye is the founder and head of Warriors, Inc., a technical advisory company specializing in portraying realistic military action in Hollywood films. He has offered his expertise to television shows such as the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

Ted Corcoran, president and CEO of the Greater FWB Chamber, stated, “It’s just amazing that our neighbors and friends were involved in these crucial military operations throughout the world.” Corcoran pointed out that the Air Force, and the military as a whole, are loved in Okaloosa County.

The panelists included: Cindy Cole Chal, Col. Howard Hill, Col. Larry Ropka, Col. Bill Keeler, Chief Master Sergeant Bill Walter, Lt. Col. Kirby Locklear, Lt. Col. Corby Martin, Col. Allison Black and L. Gen. Marshall “Brad” Webb. The riveting stories brought the news headlines to life.

The state established the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2013 to recognize and honor military veterans who have made a significant contribution to Florida through their years of service. Nine Okaloosa County veterans have been inducted since 2016.

Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs representative Bob Asztalos spoke about the importance of the Veteran’s Hall of Fame. The chamber presented two plaques to Okaloosa County Commissioner Trey Goodwin to display in the county’s two courthouses.

“This is not to recognize the veteran for their military service, it’s their post-military service. It’s for what they did when they came back,” said Asztalos. “It’s incredible to me how veterans will go off to war, will serve this county, will do all of that, and then come back and continue to keep giving. And that is who we are honoring tonight.”

Corcoran concluded by saying, “The quiet professionals that we have here in the Air Force don’t pat themselves on the back very often, and it’s our job to do that.”