audience VITAS innovative Hospice Care and One Senior Place presented Every Day is Veteran’s Day at the Brennity at Melbourne. It was a full house to listen to the guest speaker Chaplain Lt. Col. Norris Burkes. / MALCOLM DENEMARK / FLORIDA TODAY

VIERA — Getting information about veterans services often means visiting, writing or calling a variety of agencies.

But Friday, veterans got that information in one place.

The occasion was the “Every Day is Veterans Day,” a one-day event in which Vitas Innovative Hospice Care and One Senior Place teamed up to present veterans with information about services available to them from non-profit organizations and businesses in Brevard.

Ralph and Shirley Johnson of Titusville said they received more information than they expected. Veterans organizations and businesses set up booths or tables to share information with participants.

“There are a lot of interesting things that I didn’t know were available,” said 79-year-old Ralph Johnson, who served in the Air Force from 1953 to 1958.

The Johnsons said they also enjoyed listening to syndicated newspaper columnist Norris Burkes, who was the guest speaker and top draw for the event, held at Brennity, an independent- and assisted-living facility in Viera.

Burkes, whose columns on spirituality appear in FLORIDA TODAY on Sundays, at times had the audience almost solemnly quiet and at other times roaring with laughter.

It was almost non-stop laughter as Burkes told the audience of close to 300 about a time when he had to explain why he needed another uniform hat after his fell in the toilet while serving as a chaplain in Saudi Arabia.

“There are a lot of officers with a hat full of crap, but I’m the first one willing to admit it,” he said to loud laughter followed by applause.

A hush came over the room as Burkes, who is a chaplain lieutenant colonel in the California Air National Guard, took listeners on an imaginary ride of times in which he was part of the teams that notified families of soldiers who had died at war.

“It’s difficult to tell you,” he said as he recounted some of the stories of notifying family members of the death of a troop.

Burkes later laughed and joked during the question and answer period.

Before his speech, he said he was pleased to be back in Brevard County where his column started with FLORIDA TODAY.

“It was very inspirational,” said Army veterans Tom Parks, of Merritt Island, following Burkes speech. “We enjoyed his message.”

Bill Dorssett, 82 of Viera, said he had heard Burkes speak on other occasions and wanted to make sure he was there Friday morning. He held a packet of information he had collected at the event.

“There’s some valuable information, particularly about Veterans Affairs,” said Dorssett, who served with the Marines in the Korean War.

Organizers said they were pleased with the event.

“I’m very thrilled that they are all here, because this is what this is all about, connecting people with the services available to them,” said Kathi Ridner, director at One Senior Place.

Greggory Overton, veterans liaison for Vitas Innovative Hospice Care, called attendance to the first such event “phenomenal.” He said they planned to make it an annual event.

“We live that every day,” he said. “Every Day is Veterans Day.”

Contact Moody at 321-242-3651 or nmoody@floridatoday Follow us at or Twitter @RNormanMoody


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