2010-11-11 / Undercover Historian

There’s no better day than Veterans Day to visit Freedom Park

Special to Florida Weekly


E.W. “Ed” Crayton E.W. “Ed” Crayton

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

— George Washington

World War I, “The Great War,” officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. But the actual fighting ended seven months earlier, on Nov. 11, 1918, when an armistice was called between the Allied nations and Germany. Hence the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month gave rise to an idealistic hope that this was the war to end all wars.

Ed Frank Ed Frank President Woodrow Wilson issued the first commemoration of Armistice Day one year later, on Nov. 11, 1919.

By 1938, Armistice Day in America (France and England have theirs as well) a Congressional resolution officially recognized it as a national holiday to honor WWI veterans. The hope that WWI would be the war to end all wars was dashed three years later, however, when the Japanese attached Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day, the United States officially entered WWII.

The Japanese announced their cease-fire surrender on Aug. 15, 1945 (their time; Aug. 14 U.S. time), and the formal paperwork was completed on Sept. 2 that year.

The first Veterans Day was celebrated in Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 11, 1947. It wasn’t until 1954 that President Dwight Eisenhower amended the Armistice Day proclamation so it would now be known as Veterans Day in honor of all veterans of all wars.

Beatrice and Stephen Briggs COLLIER COUNTY MUSEUMS / COURTESY PHOTOS Beatrice and Stephen Briggs COLLIER COUNTY MUSEUMS / COURTESY PHOTOS Locals honoring local veterans

In January 1984, Naples Mayor Stanley Billick and Evelyn Van, then president of the Naples Woman’s Club, broke ground for the first Veterans Memorial in Naples or Collier County, in the northwest corner of Cambier Park.

On March 29, 2009, the 50 acres at the corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway was designated as Freedom Park. A group of veterans launched a grassroots campaign to construct a permanent memorial to pay tribute to the members of our armed forces and to honor law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and civilians who perished during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Freedom Park has a 5-acre lake, 3,500 feet of boardwalk, a 2,500-square-foot education facility, six lookout pavilions, water fountains and walking trails with educational and information signage.

Julius “Junkie” Fleischmann Julius “Junkie” Fleischmann Th e grounded history of Freedom Park

Melissa Hennig, principal environmental specialist with Conservation Collier, called this summer to talk about the history of Freedom Park when discussion for signage was on the table. The research uncovered four pioneering names (all veterans) whose very nature and character epitomize “freedom.”

Edward Crayton, an Ohio businessman, purchased most of holdings of the founder of Naples, Walter Haldeman, including the Freedom Park land (which was originally Naples Improvement Company’s Little Farms subdivision).

Ed Frank, perhaps best known as the inventor of the swamp buggy and first strip mall on Fifth Avenue South, purchased the northern most area of the parkland from Mr. Crayton.

Stephen and Beatrice Briggs, known for their philanthropic work as well as local movies, photography and Brigg-Stratton Motors, purchased some acreage from Mr. Crayton’s widow and from Mr. Frank as well.

Few locals today know of Julius “Junkie” Fleischmann’s secretive topography mission while yachting in the South Pacific that served America greatly during WWII, but they do know of his purchase of the acreage in 1960. In 2004, his heirs sold the land to Collier County.

Thanks to the diligence of Ms. Hennig, who took the time to link local history through the signs and a brochure, visitors will come to know these men have added so much lore and value to Naples’ local history.

On this 11th day of the 11th month, why not visit Freedom Park yourself? If you can, take a youngster along with you and check out the future site of the Freedom Memorial and the signs that showcase some local pioneers who were a big part of the magic in this place we call home. Tell them of the appreciation we have and the great debt we owe to veterans, police and firemen who have given their lives in the line of duty. 

Several ways to honor area veterans Here are some local Veterans Day observations taking place Thursday, Nov. 11: >> 8 a.m. at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church – Veterans Day mass. The church is at 625 111th Ave. N.

>> 10:15 a.m. at Cambier Park – Veterans Day memorial service

>> 2 p.m. at Hodges Funeral Home – Free showing of the award-winning documentary, “Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing. The funeral home is at 111th Ave. N. (See story on page C3.)

>> 4 p.m. at Beth Tikvah of Naples – Presentation by Michael Hirsh, author of “The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust.” RSVP by calling 287-8921 or e-mailing bethtikvahnaples@ aol.com. Beth Tikvah is at 3765 Airport-Pulling Road, in the Everglades Professional Center.

>> 5 p.m. at Hodges University – Veterans Day ceremony hosted by the Hodges University Veterans Club, with guest speaker Maj. Gen. James Dozier (ret). The university is at 2655 Northbrooke Drive.

>> 6 p.m. at Freedom Park – Boy Scout Troop 243 will burn more than 300 American flags in the troop’s annual flag retiring ceremony.

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