Twinsburg -- Thinking ahead to Independence Day in 2015, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4929 asked the city for $5,000 to help bring the nationally-renowned traveling Cost of Freedom Tribute to the city, a request that was swiftly granted by City Council Feb. 12.
VFW post commander, U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran Joe Jasany said the undertaking will cost more than $15,000, a third of which is needed as a down payment to reserve a date. Council approved the money from the city's bed tax fund, which includes money from visitor fees on hotel rooms that can be expended on tourism and visitor events.
Jasany said he expects the comprehensive display will be a message to all veterans, servicemen and emergency response personnel that their efforts are recognized and their purpose commemorated.
"For a veteran, I think it's going to remind them that there are still people out there thinking about veterans and this kind of reassures them that the information given to the public is available to them to honor and respect the veteran," Jasany said. "We're not letting the veterans' purpose or role in the community die just because there aren't a lot of noticeable conflicts going on. I think this allows a veteran to reminisce to their days, whatever war they might have been in."
The Cost of Freedom Tribute is a comprehensive display honoring war veterans, active duty military personnel, first responders, police officers, firefighters and anyone else who puts their life on the line in service of the nation. The display is organized and transported by American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a non-profit organization based in Flint, Texas.
AVTT CEO Kevin Weatherly said the display was created to be an all-inclusive salute to all individuals who sacrifice their safety or lives to protect the nation.
"Our goal was just to pay tribute to all that we ask as a nation to put on a uniform, to protect and defend us, whether that's here in the U.S. or abroad," Weatherly said. "We have police panels, firefighter panels, FBI panels, so it was just to make it a culmination of all that we ask to work in a line that they may not come home at the end of the day."
Leah DeLuzio, event coordinator for American Veterans Traveling Tribute, said the display has drawn crowds up to 15,000 strong when it's been promoted well.
"An area that doesn't promote the event outside their community might only see 3,000 to 5,000, depending on their population size," DeLuzio said.
Not to be confused with the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, the Cost of Freedom Tribute involves a similar replica of the famous war monument as well as 190 feet of additional standing displays dedicated to various armed conflicts and national crises.
With money from the city secured, Jasany booked the display for July 1 through 5, 2015. Jasany said the tribute cannot be booked in a city if a community within 100 miles is hosting the display that year. This means that since the tribute will be in Youngstown in 2014, Twinsburg must wait until 2015.
Jasany said his next priority is to begin raising the remaining $10,000 needed to bring the tribute to Twinsburg. He plans to approach officials from Twinsburg Township and Reminderville to request donations.
"I'd like to make it a community celebration of freedom," Jasany said. "Not necessarily a festival, but we could invite certain vendors to put their tents up. We're not bringing this to town for our benefit. It's because of the tribute it pays to first responders and veterans."
American Veterans Traveling Tribute does not allow host cities to charge admission and requires the display to be available 24 hours a day. The $15,000 price tag does not include incidentals such as lighting, sanitation and security.
Jasany said he plans to organize several fundraising events over the next two years, including a poker run hosted by the Twinsburg Fire Department in July. Bob Evans on East Aurora Road will donate 15 percent of its proceeds on May 3 to the VFW Post's efforts. Interested parties can donate directly to the VFW's tribute fund through any FirstMerit Bank branch.
"We're excited about it," Jasany said. "We're going to worry a little bit about raising the additional $10,000, but I have confidence that it'll happen."
Several locations are being considered for the tribute, which requires a space roughly the size of a football field. Potential venues include Liberty Park, Twinsburg High School's soccer field and Dodge Stadium. However, Jasany said a current favorite is the parking lot behind R.B. Chamberlin Middle School, which is already lighted and may save the VFW money on lighting.
Council President Seth Rodin said the event is a good investment for the city, considering the expected attendance from veterans and curious visitors.
"I haven't ever seen it before, but it's a huge patriotic thing and I think it'd be great for the city to have it," Rodin said. "I think the return of investment that the city will get from it will definitely outweigh the $5,000 we put into it."