The photos of 96 veterans and current armed service members will decorate each side of the bridge for November.
For the month of November, the Granada Bridge will be the home of the brave.
The faces of 96 veterans line the bridge on commemorative banners as part of Ormond Beach's inaugural Hometown Heroes program. The military appreciation banner program is meant to honor residents, or their immediate family members, who are actively serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, are veterans, or were killed in the line of duty.
City Leisure Services Director Robert Carolin said it's been a priority in Ormond Beach to recognize veterans as much as possible, and, the banner program further establishes that.
“I hope that [people] remember the dedication and the sacrifice that these veterans have made to make this country what it is today," Carolin said. "I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us to just stop and become grateful for what these wonderful individuals have done.”
The City Commission approved initiating the program at its Aug, 21, 2018 meeting. Hometown Heroes was modeled after a similar DeLand program, Carolin said. Halifax Health will be sponsoring Hometown Heroes for the next three years, including paying for the creation of the banners. Aside from the 96, two other applications were submitted to the city, which have been placed on a waiting list for next year.
Celebrating the launch
The city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony just after dawn on Friday, Nov. 1, the day after city crews installed the banners. Following the ceremony, city representatives walked the bridge with members of Ormond Strong, a military support nonprofit.
Mayor Bill Partington said at the ceremony that they were there to honor, remember and celebrate "hometown heroes."
“Each one of these hometown heroes has an amazing story behind them," Partington said. "A story of dedication, a story of love of country, a story of family — stories that will make you laugh, stories that will fill you with pride and then some stories that would break your heart if you knew the backstory behind each of these.”
Behind the banner
Army veteran Staff Sgt. Daniel Cooper had three things to worry about while serving in Baghdad: what was he going to eat next; when did he have to show up to an assignment; and was he going to get killed by something unseen.
His truck was blown up by explosives three times in Iraq. His unit was fired at by mortars almost daily, he recalled. One time, the interpreter he was speaking with was shot by a sniper.
To get a clear head while serving, Cooper said he had to let go of the fear of being killed.
“I did my due diligence and if I died, I died," Cooper said. "That was something that I adopted.”
Cooper's photo is among those lining the bridge this November. His family moved to Ormond in 1994, and while he currently lives in St. Petersburg, his mother still resides in the city. She submitted both Cooper and her late husband U.S. Marine Sgt. Robert Cooper, who served in Vietnam from 1969-1971, to be featured in the Hometown Heroes program.
Cooper's military experience is something that helped shaped his life. He entered basic training on Memorial Day 2000 and his first assignment afterward was to the Old Guard in Washington D.C. He was there during 9/11. Cooper remembers hearing the plane hit the Pentagon from Fort Myer; he described it as a "deep thud."
After the attack, he was among those sifting through the rubble for bodies in the Pentagon.
“It was a pretty sobering experience for a bunch of kids,” Cooper said.
Veterans have a special connection, Cooper added. There's always a bond between people who understand what you've gone through. Sometimes, experiences can be hard to explain to friends back home, he said.
With Memorial Day around the corner, Cooper said the holiday is a time to reflect on the people who are willing to sacrifice for strangers.
“I think that’s something to be revered, if not honored," Cooper said. "So that’s what I would hope people would see when they see the faces on the bridge — remembering that it’s people doing difficult things for them without being asked.”