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‘Delayed but not denied:’ St. Pete honors veterans

Mark Parker

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Mayor Ken Welch addresses the crowd in front of the Veterans Memorial at Williams Park. Photos by Mark Parker.

A hurricane may have postponed the City of St. Petersburg’s annual Veteran’s Day Celebration from Nov. 11, but as many local officials noted, service members’ sacrifices deserve recognition perpetually.

The Veteran’s Memorial at a foggy Williams Park served as the backdrop for the ninth annual celebration Friday morning. Local officials attended the downtown event en masse, with six of eight council members joining Mayor Ken Welch and several administrators in front of the downtown monument to honor two local heroes.

Theresa Jones, veteran and social services manager, said that while Hurricane Nicole delayed the previously-scheduled ceremony, it would not deny the city an opportunity to honor its veterans.

City Council Chair Gina Driscoll thanked Gina Maniaci, director of the St. Petersburg Vet Center, for creating the event nine years ago. She added that the local community formed by people like Maniaci sends a clear message that veterans can live proud, honored and fulfilling lives in the city.

“It makes me very happy that we’ve rescheduled this because it’s also a message that we should be honoring our veterans every single day,” said Driscoll. “Above all else, we get to do these things because of you.”

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s Honor Guard.

The honored veteran recipients

When introducing St. Petersburg’s 2022 Honored Veteran Award recipients, Welch said there was no place the assemblage of officials would rather be on a Friday morning. “Our city believes strongly in saluting our nation’s heroes today and every day,” he added.

John E. Green joined the U.S. Coast Guard as an aviation survival technician in 1986, and retired as a chief warrant officer in 2008. His heroic effort to save all 51 crewmembers aboard a burning oil rig in July 2000 earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross – the highest aviation heroism award for non-combat situations.

Welch, who sounded like he was describing a scene from a movie, relayed the details of Green’s night rescue.

While an immense fire burned uncontrollably, the rescue swimmer made several trips to and from the oil rig to evacuate workers in small groups. Welch said Green volunteered to remain on the platform as the fire raged until the last crew member made it to safety.

The rig exploded shortly after achieving that goal. Welch said Green managed to radio for help and a Coast Guard helicopter got just close enough for him to leap from the platform into its cabin.

Greene and his team’s actions to save everyone aboard were later entered into Congressional Record by former Sen. Mary Landrieu. He relayed his heartfelt thanks for the recognition “that a lot of rescuers never get.”

“We risk our lives to help others, that we don’t even know who they are,” said Green. “But we do it because that’s what we love to do, so it’s very nice to get a thank you every once in a while.”

From left: Theresa Jones, veteran and social services manager; Councilmember Lisset Hanecwicz; Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders; Pat Mack, Honored Veteran Award recipient; Mayor Ken Welch; John Green, Honored Veteran Award recipient; Council Chair Gina Driscoll; Councilmember Ed Montanari, retired air operations officer for U.S. Central Command; Councilmember Copley Gerdes; and Rep. Lindsay Cross.

South St. Pete native Pat Mack enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1987 and retired as a commander in 2011. With a master’s degree in computer science, Welch noted, Mack spent most of his naval career creating a robust system to make the purchasing and procurement process more efficient and effective.

He received several military awards – including the Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious achievement or service against an armed enemy. Following his retirement, Mack founded PVM, a software engineering company that solves problems through data analytics, typically in public service sectors.

Intent on giving back to his hometown, particularly its minority and underserved communities, Mack returned to St. Petersburg. PVM and its 50 employees now operate out of the Innovation District’s Maritime and Defense Technology Hub.

Mack thanked his fellow veterans and their families, particularly those who never returned home. He called joining the “unbroken tradition of service that binds those who serve” the privilege of a lifetime.

He then took the time to acknowledge the South St. Pete “village” that nurtured, guided, inspired and, on many occasions, chastised him as a boy. The city and community, Mack added, saw something in him he didn’t realize at the time and put him on a path that he proudly walks today.

“It is that investment that enabled me to join the cadre of the best and brightest and most selfless men and women our country has to offer,” said Mack. “I’ve lived all over the world, and I can honestly say there is no place like home.

“I return home with a passion to give back to the younger versions of me that reside in this wonderful city.”

 

 

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