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For military, a daylong thank you

Jennifer Denard was only 2 when her father was killed during the Vietnam War. Capt. William Branch, an Army intelligence officer, was shot down in a helicopter in 1970.

Though her father's death left a void in her life, Denard said she finds comfort in knowing he died fighting for her freedom.

"Don't forget," she said. "This freedom has a price."

The St. Petersburg resident is a member of Sons and Daughters in Touch, a national organization that represents about 2,000 people whose fathers were killed in the Vietnam War.

Sons and Daughters is one of 50 military organizations participating in Saturday's Military Appreciation Day, an all-out Veterans Day celebration. The national holiday is Nov. 11.

The city event is the first of its kind and is long overdue, said Clearwater police Lt. Jeff Kronschnabl, organizer of the project and director of the city's community response team.

Kronschnabl hopes Military Appreciation Day will recapture the patriotic flair the holiday once had. "We need to pay tribute to our military," he said. "We need to say thank you."

The response to the event has been overwhelming, Kronschnabl said. Almost 65,000 active, retired and reserve military personnel and their families live in the Tampa Bay area. He said many people have been calling him and expressing appreciation for the city's efforts in honoring the military.

The event will begin with a 7:45 a.m. flag ceremony at Memorial Park, at the east end of Memorial Causeway. At 8 a.m., Medal of Honor recipient Frank Miller of St. Petersburg will fire the shot starting a 5-kilometer race that will take runners from Memorial Park to Sand Key Park.

Military and civilian dignitaries will ride in a motorcade that begins at 10 a.m. at the Harborview Center. Military vehicles will be part of the procession that will follow the route of the run.

A free festival with military equipment exhibits, food vendors and entertainment will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sand Key Park.

An air and water military action demonstration will take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Activities will include a flyover by an Air Force KC-135 refueling tanker, hand-to-hand combat demonstrations by Army Rangers, a beach landing by a military landing craft and parachute jumps by the U.S. Special Operations Parachute Command and the Phantom Airborne Brigade.

Special Operations members will conduct a high-altitude jump and members of the Phantom Airborne Brigade will re-enact a World War II maneuver, using original uniforms and parachutes.

Other Military Appreciation Day activities will include games, a fishing tournament and entertainment from 2 to 4 p.m. on Clearwater Beach.

A memorial ceremony will be at sunset at Pier 60, where a military wreath will be placed in the water.

The finale of the day will be a USO show featuring the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra at 8 p.m. at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. Tickets are $40 per person and reservations are required. Kronschnabl says about 300 of the 500 seats already have been sold.

Kronschnabl suggests that people take the Belleair Causeway to Sand Key Park, where free parking will be available. Those who park on Clearwater Beach can catch the Jolley Trolley, a shuttle service that runs from Clearwater Beach to Sand Key.

"It's very kind of the community to put on this celebration," said Lt. Col. Nino Fabiano, a public affairs officer at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. "I think it is a great opportunity for the military to meet the citizens of Clearwater."

For Denard, it's a chance to publicly honor her father. If he were alive today, she said, he would participate in the event.

"I'm going to be standing there for my dad," she said.