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More Than 200-Year-Old Army Veteran Honored At Haines City Veteran’s Day Ceremony

More Than 200-Year-Old Army Veteran Honored At Haines City Veteran’s Day Ceremony

by James Coulter

The name Zebulon Montgomery Pike may not ring a bell, but if you’ve ever visited Colorado, chances are you know of Pikes Peak, a mountain named after him.

Under the authority of Thomas Jefferson, Brigadier General Zebulon Montgomery Pike led two westward expeditions following the Louisiana Purchase. During one expedition, he crossed the Rocky Mountains and explored the territory now known as Colorado. This achievement earned him the honor of having Pikes Peak named after him.

During his service, he was captured by the Spanish colonial authorities near Santa Fe, taken to the territory that is now Mexico to be interrogated, and was later released near Louisiana. His exploits he wrote in a book published in 1810 and translated in Dutch, German, and French.

As a Brigadier General who served 14 years in the U.S. Army, Pike served in the War of 1812. He was killed with many American troops while leading an attack in the Battle of York in 1813.

Nearly 200 years after his death, his legacy was recognized in Haines City during their annual Veteran’s Day Celebration on Wednesday, where Pike was named Veteran of the Year. The City will install a plaque in his honor, and his descendants received the award in his honor.

Cynthia Morrison, one of his descendants, was proud that Haines City recognized the valiant efforts of her ancestor. She learned about the harsh conditions he and his men faced during his expeditions, battling both frostbite and hunger. She is humbled that his efforts helped aid the Westward Expansion.

“They say you cannot choose your family,” she said. “I want to say that I thank you all mightily for letting Zebulon be part of mine. I am very proud of him that he had such a role in developing this country.”

Pike was one of many veterans honored during the annual Haines City Veterans Day Ceremony on Wednesday. The ceremony was initially planned to be hosted at Railroad Park in Downtown Haines City, but due to inclement weather, the event was moved indoors to the Haines City Public Library.

The ceremony opened with the pledge of allegiance, national anthem, and an invocation provided by Arnulfo Gomez, a National Guard veteran and pastor of Rooted Outreach Ministries. The Haines City High School JROTC led the presentation of colors and organizational colors, which included recognizing the newest branch of the military, Space Force.

Gary Clark, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and chairman Polk County Veterans Council, served as the guest speaker during the event. He spoke of many aspects of the military, including the importance of Space Force.

As someone who served in the Air Force during the 1980s, he was involved with the creation of Air Force Space Command in Colorado. There he oversaw the procedures in the war room with detecting ballistic missiles during Project Desert Storm. From launch to impact, a missile could travel within 60 to 70 seconds; during that time, identifying the missile takes 10 seconds. Time was of the essence to detect, identify, and stop these missiles, he said.

His experience within Air Force Space Command helped him recognize the importance of Space Force. With more and more countries venturing into space for military purposes, the United States needs to catch up with the rest of them and be prepared.

“Space represents another field of combat that we need to prepare for,” Clark said. “We are concerned with what happens in space. China is a competitor. China is working hard. We know. We know they have the technology.”

Mayor Morris West allowed his grandson, Austin, from Dundee Ridge Middle School, to say a few words on behalf of local veterans. The young lad commended them for their valiantefforts to defend their country abroad.

“I would like to thank all the brave men and women for their service and what they did for this country and how great they were in participating in the army and putting their life on the line,” he said.

The Mayor likewise shared his own gratitude towards local veterans. He expressed the need for every city to aid those who had served their country, and explained how his own city has done likewise.

“You are part of an unbroken chain who served this country for the lives of our nation,” Mayor Morris said. “Today we remember and say thank you to all who made the ultimate sacrifice…Therefore, all should receive all the care, the honor that you deserve. Every city across this great nation should help our veterans by providing them jobs and care that they need when they return home. We, the City of Haines City, provide jobs and places to live and raise a family.”

Congressman Darren Soto appeared at the event to offer a few remarks about veterans. He and his office have worked with many veterans and veterans’ hospitals to ensure that those who served their country receive the care they require. As they served their country, so, too, must their country serve them.

“We are proud to serve those who have served,” Soto said. “You and your families have sacrificed so much in defense of our country, and we thank you so much for your service. The story of American heroism continues, it keeps going. It continues to this day.”

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