ALACHUA ‒ It was a sunny day in Alachua as a group of military veterans marched through downtown proudly wearing insignia marking their branch of service and displaying the American flag. Veterans Day is observed annually on Nov. 11 to honor military veterans who have served in the five branches of the military. Originally called Armistice Day, it celebrates the exact time hostilities in World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. While Memorial Day is reserved to honor those that paid the supreme sacrifice with their lives, Veterans Day is to honor all who served in the armed forces.
After serving in the Marines from 1961-1981, George Gibbs is now retired and living in Alachua. Every day he goes to Gallop-In-Gary's on Alachua's Main Street for lunch. Over time he has established a strong friendship with the Greco family staff and chef and owner Larry Greco. Larry Greco, originally from Florida, joined the Marines in the early 1970s where he served two tours in Vietnam. After he separated from the military, he went to California and for some time worked as a LAPD police officer and then moved to New York where he opened a restaurant. After a successful stint as a chef in South Florida, he opened two Gallop-In-Gary's restaurants, eventually closed both, and since has opened a new location on Main Street in Alachua.
“These are the nicest people I have come in contact with and I wanted to do something to help their business for the future,” said Gibbs. “Help make people aware of the restaurant and the good people that own it. Many people live life and check out, but it’s important to help others in need, and God helps direct you to those you can help.”
With Gibbs providing a $1,000 donation, he and Greco teamed up to honor and support their fellow veterans with a free meal for all veterans on Nov.11.
“The $1,000 wasn't about us or the restaurant,” Greco said. “It was about giving veterans a place to feel welcome and get the recognition they deserve for their service.
“People don't realize that if it wasn't for the service of the vets there would be no holidays—they are what has preserved our nation. They don't get enough recognition for their sacrifice, especially the ones that didn't come back.”
Using word of mouth and social media, they spread the word to veterans throughout the county. Gibbs, a member of the veterans Gator Detachment Marines Corps League, approached the organization about participating with a color guard.
So, it was on a sunny Veterans Day that the Marine Corps League Color Guard marched up Main Street, stopping in front of Gallop-In-Gary’s to present the colors to Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper as the restaurant opened.
Singularly and in small groups, veterans began to filter in for lunch and a cake cutting. Two of the many who came by were Navy Nurse Virginia McCort who served from 1956 to 1958 and Fred Judkins, a Vietnam War veteran who was on the first helicopter into Laos. Over the course of the day they were joined by nearly 300 veterans who came and enjoyed a meal courtesy of two of their own.
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