It’s now been about a year since I switched my Rotary Club membership from the Wesley Chapel Noon club (which meets Wednesdays at noon at Lexington Oaks Golf Club) to the New Tampa Noon club (which meets the same day and time, at Pebble Creek Golf Club in New Tampa).
But, even though I left the Wesley Chapel club, my fiancé Jannah McDonald is still a member there, as are many of mine and Jannah’s close friends.
One guy I never met until he started showing up at the Wesley Chapel Rotary meetings a couple of years ago is former New York Police Department (NYPD) cop Chris Casella. And, although Chris isn’t currently the president of the club (*Note-He is the club’s President-Designate, who will become the WC Rotary’s president after current President Kent Ross and President-Elect David Gainer), he is definitely one of the people I miss most by belonging to another club, even though I still get to see him quite a bit.
Case in point: A couple of issues ago, we told you on page 1 of this publication that one of the WC Rotary’s upcoming service projects was to give away a total of 3,000 American flags at both local shopping malls the weekend of 9/11.
Chris, who has taken on numerous responsibilities and initiated service projects for the club, including the flag giveaway, says he, “lost a lot of friends on 9/11 and it was only because I was injured the year before that I wasn’t allowed to help my brothers that day. I felt a lot of guilt about that, so 9/11 has a special meaning for me.”
Of course, Hurricane Irma reared her ugly head on September 10, which forced the club to postpone the giveaway, first until the following weekend and finally, until the weekend of Sept. 23-24.
“With so many people losing power and all the debris in the roads, we decided to postpone it one more week,” Chris says.”But, we finally got it done.”
With 15-20 volunteers, not all of whom were Rotarians, on hand, Chris says that the flag giveaway ended up being a huge success, despite the postponements.
“We gave away at least 3,000 flags and most everyone was so appreciative that we were still honoring 9/11,” Chris says. “But, the stories some of the people told brought me to tears.”
For example, one woman said her son was a firefighter who ran into the World Trade Center after the first tower collapsed…and never came back out. “She said that some people may have forgotten how horrible it was, but she never can.”
Another woman’s 26-year-old son gave up a successful construction business to enlist in the Army because, Chris says, “He just felt the need to help.” During his second deployment in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb ended his life.
I know that many of us are concerned about the state of our country and the world these days, but when you hear stories like this, about military members and first responders of all races, colors and creeds, some of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us, I understand why some people are offended by those who won’t rise for our national anthem. No matter what other problems there are in this still-great nation of ours — and certainly there are — we are all Americans who should never forget that unless we all stand together, we could fall together.