The passing of Servicemen and women will be commemorated here in order to show they are not forgotten by a grateful Nation.
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Terry Jay Coker, U.S. Army
Upon graduation from Tallassee High School in 1961, Lt. Col.
Coker earned a bachelor's Degree in Psychology and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the United States Air Force from Auburn University in 1966; and he earned a Master's Degree in System's Management
from the University of Southern California in 1974.
Lt. Col. Coker's military educational background includes the Transportation Officer's Basic and Advanced Courses, the Army Command and General Staff College, and numerous procurement courses. His assignments included duties as a Squadron Section Commander in the U.S. Air Force; and helicopter pilot, instructor pilot, aircraft maintenance officer, and procurement officer in the U.S. Army. Lt. Col. Coker served a combat tour in Vietnam in 1969 - 1970 with the 1st Calvary Division (Air-Mobile). He retired from the U.S. Army on June 30, 1986.
During his active military service, Lt. Col. Coker's decorations and badges were numerous. He earned a Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and a Master Army Aviator Badge.
Upon retirement, Lt. Col. Coker served as the Senior Army Instructor at several high schools: Cypress Lake (1986 - 1989), Goshen (1989 - 1992), and Barron Collier (1992 - 1998), and began the JROTC Program at Gulf Coast (1998 - 2009). During his tenure in Collier County, Lt. Col. Coker's cadets at both Barron Collier and Gulf Coast High Schools earned the designation of Honor Unit with Distinction during every Cadet Command Formal Inspection. Seven cadets were awarded Senior ROTC Scholarships and 8 cadets received appointments to Service Academics with 4 being West Point. His goal was to motivate and give direction to young people to become better Americans by emphasizing citizenship, leadership, and patriotism.
Lt. Col. Coker was a devoted family man, and always made time for his family. He is survived by his daughter Ashley B. Coker of Naples, Florida; two sisters Brenda C. (Larry) Bryant of Tupelo, Mississippi and Shelia C. (Jim) Scarborough of Auburn, Alabama; one niece Alison B. Huckaby and three nephews S. Matt Coker, Andy S. Coker, and Chris M. Bryant and their families. Lt. Col.. Coker was preceded in death by his wife of almost 50 years (August 22, 2020) Carol Sue Brown Coker (August 4, 2020); parents Mildred W. and Thurman J. Coker; brother S. Mike Coker; and in-laws Joyce G. and Orvis M. Brown.
The family wishes to give special thanks to Major and Mrs. Ruben González; Chief Warrant Officer (Ret.) Howard Rutizer and Major Laura Rutizer; Josh Pennington, Director of Nursing, and staff at Inspired Living at Bonita Springs; and the staff at Hope Hospice for their love, care, and compassion to our beloved father, brother, and uncle.
Sergeant First Class Javier J. Gutierrez, 28, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, died Feb. 8, 2020, in an apparent insider attack in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez was also killed in the attack. Both men were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Both soldiers were posthumously promoted to sergeant 1st class and awarded Bronze Star medals and Purple Hearts.
Staff Sergeant Ian P. McLaughlin, 29, of Newport News, Virginia, died Jan. 11, 2020, when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Pfc. Miguel Villalon was also killed in the incident. Both soldiers were assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with “C” device, the Combat Action Badge and the Basic Parachutist Badge. He was also a 2018 graduate of the Advanced Airborne School Jumpmaster Course. McLaughlin is survived by his wife and four children.
CPL Harold "Pappy" Wagner
"Pappy" worked as a telephone
man for Cincinnati Bell until his retirement. Then he moved to Naples, FL in 1969 and worked for United Telephone and retired again. He loved fishing, hunting and sitting on his front porch enjoying
the outdoors with his many friends and neighbors.
The Smithsonian National WWII Museum interviewed "Pappy" for his service at Iwo Jima where he witnessed the raising of the Stars and Stripes. The Naples Daily News has written several articles about his service as a Marine. He enjoyed riding on the USMC float during the parades. A special thank you to his many fellow Marine friends who visited "Pappy" during his stay at AVOW Hospice.
After graduating from James Monroe High School and CCNY School of Engineering, Lou went on to serve in the US Army, active reserves, and inactive reserves. He was employed by the New York City Housing Authority for many years before helping to build the PanAm building in Manhattan. In 1966, he became an airport engineer with the FAA in Miami, Florida. Lou then became an instructor at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, in addition to teaching in Alaska and Hawaii on behalf of the FAA.
Dear Collier County Veterans Council Members and Friends,
With heavy hearts and our deepest sorrow, we need to inform you that our good friend and brother, Bob McDonald, a WWII Army Air Corps veteran, has passed away on the 4th of May, 2019. Bob has been the official ‘Bugler’ for the Council from the start. We would like to ask you to take a moment of silence to reflect on and remember Bob’s kind spirit and the sincere respect he has shown our local community and our Country. Bob will be greatly missed. We will announce details regarding the memorial service as we hear more from his family.
The Collier County Veterans Council
Mentioned in the Naples Daily News: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/robert-mcdonald-obituary?pid=192826480
Elizabeth N. Jacobson USAF Operation Iraqi Freedom
21, of Riviera Beach, Fl assigned to the 17th Security Forces Squadron, Goodfellow AFB, Texas died Sept. 28 2005, near Camp Bucca, Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated near her convoy vehicle.
Sgt. Shane Duffy US Army Operation Iraqi Freedom
22, of Taunton, MA; assigned to the 1st battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigage Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.; died June 4 2008 in Tikrit, Iraq, of wounds sustained in Shargat, Iraq, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces using small-arms fire and hand grenades. Also killed were Spc. Jonathan D.A. Emard and Sgt. Cody R. Legg. Duffy was KIA 2 weeks after he returned from a mid-tour leave. During that leave, Duffy met his daughter for the first time. They spent only 28 days together. Shane Duffy's family was presented a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions in Iraq
Earl G. Hodges US Merchant Marines WWII and Korean War
Earl G Hodges, (fondly regarded as "Lover" by Thelma), 86, a resident of Naples and Collier County for 57 years, died at home on Friday, October 18, 2013 due to complications of pulmonary fibrosis. He was born in Livingston, TN on August 27. 1927, son of Willa Mae and Arlice Hodges and his step mother, Myrtle Hodges. Earl is survived by his devoted wife Thelma "Chicken" of 55 years and his sister, Virginia Kind Hunter of Cookeville, TN. Also surviving are many nieces and nephews including his grand nephew and associate of 13 years, Leslie King, III and Thelma's niece Emmy Quinby, both of Naples. He had many special friends in his life including Zora, Tomas, Carol, Patty, Tim and Todd. He is preceded in death by his parents, a brother, A. Houston Hodges of Manchester, TN and his aunt and uncle, Christine and Clarence Hodges of Naples. He was a Veteran of World War II, joining the Merchant Marines at the age of 17. He served in the Grave Registration during the Korean War. Earl was a graduate of Gupton Jones School of Mortuary Science. He became a Licensed Funeral Director in the State of Tennessee and Florida where he opened Earl G. Hodges Funeral Chapel in August, 1962. He was also the owner of Naples Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum for several years. Due to his generous contribution to International College in 2007, the college was renamed Hodges University. He was an avid hunter and enjoyed the outdoors. Earl was a proud Mason, Shriner and Rotarian. He also loved traveling within the USA and around the world.
Everyone who knew Homer Helter agreed he was the embodiment of patriotism.
While he did not serve in the armed forces, he loved veterans and dedicated years to serving them.
His namesake military collectibles and antique store gave them a place to gather and exchange war stories, talk politics and enjoy a meal together.
He worked with volunteers to send more than 70 tons of supplies to active service members overseas since 2003.
He gave them wheelchairs and planned their funerals.
On Sunday afternoon Helter died after suffering two strokes — one on Tuesday and the other on Sunday.
After suffering the second stroke, Helter turned his eyes toward his wife, Diana, who was on the right side of his hospital bed, and mouthed his final words: “I love you.”
“That’s a memory I’m going to always hold dear,” said the Rev. Donald Treglown, a close friend of Helter’s and senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Naples. Treglown was on the left side of Helter’s hospital bed when he died.
“Even in death, he was thinking of the people he loved,” Treglown said.
Helter left Treglown an envelope with instructions for the Hannukah and Christmas deliveries so someone could continue the tradition in case anything happened.
Helter helped the pastor by visiting people in the hospital.
“I think he had the most generous heart I’ve ever seen in a person,” Treglown said.
The story goes that Helter wanted to serve in the military but couldn’t because married men were not drafted. So he joked that being married to his high school sweetheart was his service, said Lois Bolin, a local historian and friend of Helter’s.
“He never met anyone he didn’t like, unless they tested his trust or did something against veterans,” Bolin said.
Helter was born in West Virginia and grew up in Ohio, Treglown said. He retired in 1989 as vice president of Pennsylvania-based Big Wheel Discount Stores and retired to Naples some time after.
An antiques dealer since 1998, Helter curated one of the largest collections of military memorabilia and opened Homer Helter’s Antique & Military Mall on Pine Ridge Road and Shirley Street.
In 2013, Helter and one of his store’s vendors were acquitted of federal charges that alleged they had sold firearms without a license.
The store has become a popular hangout for Southwest Florida veterans of all conflicts and military branches.
Veterans gather around “The Table” every day to watch the news, talk politics, drink coffee and eat a meal or pastry. They call the store God’s waiting room.
Helter always made sure his veterans were fed.
Robert McDonald, a World War II Army Air Corps veteran, has visited the antiques store for several years as often as every other day.
“He ran a fine operation for veterans,” McDonald said. “He always had food and coffee for us. He would do anything for a veteran. He was a generous person and a great patriot. From the minute he opened the store to the minute he closed, he took care of his veterans.”
McDonald recalled that last year, a veteran friend of Helter’s died and his family did not tend to the funeral. Helter organized the funeral services, and about 110 veterans from the antique store packed the chapel in the Moorings Park community.
McDonald, 93, played the bugle to wake the soldiers during his training in 1943.
He wishes to play the bugle at the funeral service for his friend, Helter.
“It would be a great honor,” McDonald said.
Funeral plans have not been announced.
SPC Steven Taylor Hayes enlisted in U.S. Army on 15 JAN 09 and faithfully served our country as he performed his duties as a Paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He was deployed to Afghanistan earning a Combat Action Badge, Army Service Ribbon, NATO ISAF Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with a Bronze Star, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Commendation Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Valorous Unit Award, Army Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Superior Unit Award, Army Achievement Ribbon, National Defense Service Ribbon, Army Presidential Unit Citation, Army Meritorious Unit Citation Ribbon. SPC Hayes was Honorably Discharged on 12 DEC 11. country as he performed his duties as a Paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He was deployed to Afghanistan earning a Combat Action Badge, Army Service Ribbon, NATO ISAF Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with a Bronze Star, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Commendation Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Valorous Unit Award, Army Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Superior Unit Award, Army Achievement Ribbon, National Defense Service Ribbon, Army Presidential Unit Citation, Army Meritorious Unit Citation Ribbon. SPC Hayes was Honorably Discharged on 12 DEC 11.
Please know that you and your family do not mourn alone. All the veterans, active duty personnel, and the Collier County Veterans Council are with you, praying for you. Viet Nam, Iraq, and the Afghan war have taught us a valuable lesson! Not all people who come home from war ever leave their war.
God bless this brave man, SPC Steven Taylor Hayes, who has suffered so long.
May Jesus hold you in his loving arms for all eternity.
Humbly and Solemnly,
Collier County Veterans Council
Lance Corporal Austin J. Ruiz, 19, of Naples, Florida, served as a combat engineer with 3rd Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, Japan. He was attached to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, at the time of the incident and transported via ground MEDEVAC before being declared deceased.
Eric Shawn Sandusky
Naples - Eric Shawn Sandusky, 57, originally of Montgomery Township, NJ, passed away peacefully in his sleep October 4, 2020 at his Naples home. A former land surveyor, Eric was a proud veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. He was an avid music lover and great fan of the NY Giants and his dad's Pittsburgh Steelers. He is survived by his loving family: Son, Michael, 26, parents, Mike and Barbara Sandusky, sisters Karen Sandusky, Diana Diamond and Sharon Marshall. Eric was a very loving father, son and brother. He will be sorely missed by his entire family. Final arrangements are by the Fuller Funeral Home, 1625 Pine Ridge Rd, Naples, FL. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in his memory to St. Matthews House, in Naples.
CCVC Board of Directors
Chief William Carl (President)
LCDR John E. Hogan
Cpt Jack Fulmer
(Sergeant at Arms)
Pastor Ed Brandt
Joan Mary Madonna (Secretary)
The Veterans Council enjoys the generous financial support of its contributors. If your organization would like support the Veterans Council and its four public patriotic ceremonies, please mail your annual $50 donation to:
Collier County Veterans Council
527 107th Ave N
Naples, FL 34108
If you would like to publicly introduce yourself to the Board of Directors and their gallery of patriots, please contact us to have your name placed on the upcoming meeting agenda.
Veteran Suicide Prevention
If you, or a veteran you know, may be thinking of contemplating suicide please call The Veterans Crisis Hotline at:
1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
or go to their website at:
Helpful Suicide education is also provided here.
"In all you do, do with all your might. Things done by half measures are never done right."
The Veterans Council of Collier County is the umbrella organization of the 20 veterans groups that exist in
Collier County, Florida.
The Veterans Council is comprised of representatives from each group and meets the 3rd Thursday of each month.
We bring all groups together for networking and fellowship in an otherwise fragmented community. We each have our allegiances, but are fighting the same battle.
United we stand.
Meetings are open to all veterans.