Harry Isabel, a 90-year-old World War II veteran from Boynton Beach, is a hero in his own right.
His efforts rescuing injured troops on the Pacific island of Saipan in the Army earned him the Bronze Star. He still hears the “click, click, click” of the Japanese soldiers’ machine guns that wounded U.S. troops he tried to help.
“One of them died in my hands,” Isabel said.
But Isabel finds as much, if not more, joy encouraging his younger brethren as he does in his own recognition. It’s among the many appeals of watching The Honda Classic from the Patriots Outpost each year.
The golf tournament at PGA National partners with United Technologies to offer free tickets for active duty military personnel, retirees, reservists and their dependents. The tickets also give them access to a pavilion where they can eat snacks and lunch overlooking the 17th hole.
Isabel sees few of his World War II peers there, but there are plenty of Vietnam-era veterans with whom he mingles, offering them the encouragement they never got when they came home.
“They demand all the respect anyone has,” Isabel said. “I really enjoy doing that, because those poor guys were under-appreciated by a lot of people. I like to talk to those guys and tell them how well I think they did.”
The outpost is accessible Thursday through Sunday of the tournament, Feb. 25 to 28, and attracts veterans from World War II to present. Organizers hope to host 15,000 veterans. Tickets are available in advance online or at the main gate during the tournament.
Tom Oettinger, a suburban Lake Worth resident who retired from the Army after 22 years, recruited his neighbor to check out the Patriots Outpost with him a few years ago. The experience transformed how Jack Kelleher is spending his retirement.
Kelleher said for 42 years after his military career ended, he brushed off the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. He decided to get involved after that day at the outpost.
Now, he’s the commander of VFW Post 5335 in Boynton Beach.
“I wasted 42 years of not being involved. I would encourage anyone that’s been in the service that they should stay involved,” he said. “You’re missing that camaraderie and support of someone that’s been where you’ve been.”
Oettinger, Kelleher’s neighbor, had a 22-year career in the Army after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy. He’s drawn back to the outpost by being surrounded by people with a common past.
Plus, it’s in a great environment close to the green where the golfers walk, he said.
It’s “tremendous” to see corporations recognizing those who served, especially people who may not have gotten that recognition in the past, Oettinger said.
“I’m always overwhelmed by emotion when I see what they do and how our service is appreciated,” he said.
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To verify your military service and claim your tickes for The Honda Classic, go to https://birdiesforthebrave2.sheerid.com/hondaclassic-2016.