Veteran turning 100 to be honored with procession

’30s Civilian Conservation Corps and WWII veteran Hank Sulima has been a humble educator and historical ambassador for decades in Florida

VERO BEACH — The Veterans Council of Indian River County is organizing a celebratory parade with friends, neighbors, admirers and history buffs to honor a local veteran who will turn 100 years old on Monday, June 8.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/HHSP/2019 file photo
SEBRING — “CCC Boy” Hank Sulima sits with Myakka River State Park volunteer Jane Hogg at the 2019 Civilian Conservation Corps Festival in Highlands Hammock State Park.

His name might be familiar to folks living around Lake Okeechobee who often visit Highlands Hammock State Park near Sebring to take in their spring/summer educational programs and the annual CCC Festival that takes place in November.

Henry (Hank) Sulima, who lives in the Vista Gardens development in Vero, has been a sort of “celebrity guest” for many programs at Highlands Hammock because of his service to the country and experiences during the Great Depression and World War II.

Mr. Sulima served as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) member in the 1930s while in his teens, rising to the coveted rank of “two-striper” surveyor and supervisor. He was a member of what was called “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” which was reforesting the Northwoods and the Pacific Northwest, among many other projects, during 1938-1942.

Weeks later, after 18 months in the CCC, Hank became an Army driver for a time after taking a training course at Camp Tomahawk, near Blackwell, Wis., where he was stationed. Then, finally, he trained to be U.S. Army Air Forces meteorologist. Mr. Sulima was deployed for more than two years in the South Pacific; his job was establishing weather stations on the Pacific islands as the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps and Allies’ troops conquered them, one by one, en route to Japan. The units he served in helped to direct U.S. and Allied forces around the fierce oceanic storms that regularly whipped up and complicated troop movements and naval deployments. Units such as his were the weather warriors who guided the Enola Gay on its famous flight to end the war.

A neighbor of his, Lydia, organized a small gathering under certain physical distancing and safe interaction rules that the Vista Gardens homeowners association has to enforce, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, but they got permission for a small birthday party with only 20 people maximum allowed inside at any one time.

Jim Romanek, executive director of the Veterans Council of Indian River County, got wind of Mr. Sulima’s centennial gathering, and he sent out an email alert to fellow council members on Monday, June 1, letting everyone know:
“We are planning a drive-by for his birthday. … I am asking everyone who can come out and beep your horns or blow your sirens as we pass the clubhouse, where he will be having a small birthday celebration.”

Those wishing to participate are asked to contact Mr. Romanek by emailing jim@veteranscouncilirc.org or calling his cellphone, 772-696-6141. Plans are for the motorcade to form in the north side parking lot at McKee Botanical Gardens and get ready to drive past the Vista Gardens Clubhouse at 2 p.m. this Friday, June 5.

“Please make signs, bring your jeeps with American flags, bring your antique cars or show cars, but let’s all pitch in to make him a memory!” Mr. Romanek wrote.

Also partly responsible for the organization of this event was Carla Kappmeyer-Sherwin, park services specialist at Highlands Hammock State Park.

The development’s clubhouse is located at 20A Vista Gardens Trail, Vero Beach, right next to the tennis courts.

Anyone wishing to send Mr. Sulima a birthday or appreciation card may address it to him at 21 Vista Gardens Trail, Unit 106, Vero Beach, FL 32962.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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