PLANT CITY William Shrader was one of the first veterans to walk through the turnstiles today as the Florida Strawberry Festival salutes the military and those who serve in public safety.
Shrader, a 72-year-old Vietnam-era Army veteran, said he has only missed once since the festival started American Heroes Day in 2009.
“I love the festival and what they do for veterans,” the Lakeland resident said.
The festival offers free gate admission today to current and former members of the military, law enforcement and other first responders. A program in their honor is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on the Wish Farms Soundstage.
About 3,000 to 4,000 veterans and others who qualify visit the festival on American Heroes Day each year.
Festival President Jim Jeffries said General Manager Paul Davis came up with the idea to offer a day of free admission for veterans. The board of directors enthusiastically endorsed the plan and the festival has set aside a day ever since, Jeffries said.
“We feel very strongly about support for our military and we want to do everything we can to help them,” Jeffries said.
The festival is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Sunday.