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OPERATION SAND KEY

During World War II, the desolate beach on the north end of Sand Key was used as a military training ground. On Saturday, more than 50 years later, the U.S. armed forces once again will flex their muscle on Sand Key as part of Military Appreciation Day.

The first-time event, which is being hosted by the city of Clearwater, features parachute jumps, a flyover and combat demonstrations.

Billed as a family outing, the all-day event recognizes and honors the community's active, retired and reserve military personnel, said Clearwater police Lt. Jeff Kronschnabl, project organizer and director of the city's community response team.

Military Appreciation Day also marks Clearwater's celebration of Veterans Day, which falls on Tuesday.

Dick Fitzgerald, a retired Army colonel and a former city commissioner, said the purpose of the event is to regenerate the community's patriotic spirit.

Fitzgerald said many Veterans Day parades and ceremonies have been replaced with small services scattered throughout the county.

"(Military Appreciation Day) is an opportunity to go way beyond that," he said. "We want to involve the entire community."

Fitzgerald is vice commander of the Clearwater chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars, one of about 50 military groups participating in the event.

It begins with an early morning flag ceremony at Memorial Park, where runners will start on a 5-kilometer race that ends at Sand Key Park.

A motorcade of military and civilian dignitaries will depart from the Harborview Center in downtown Clearwater and end at Sand Key Park, where a free festival will feature military equipment exhibits, food vendors and entertainment.

An air and water military action show at the park will include a variety of demonstrations: 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.

Members of the Phantom Airborne Brigade will show spectators what a parachute jump would have looked like during World War II. They'll wear original military uniforms and use original parachutes.

Other Military Appreciation Day activities include games, a fishing tournament and entertainment on Clearwater Beach, where a sunset memorial ceremony will take place near Pier 60.

The event will end with a USO show featuring the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. Tickets are $40.

Festival organizers suggest using Belleair Causeway to get to Sand Key Park to alleviate traffic on Memorial Causeway. Those who do park on Clearwater Beach can take the Jolley Trolley, a shuttle service that runs from Clearwater Beach to Sand Key.

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