For the last five years, Advantage Academy students have made 600 placemats for Plant City’s annual Plant City Honors Our Veterans and Active Military event.
“It’s a way of teaching children the value of our veterans, some veterans keep the placemats for years,” said event organizer Judy Wise.
This year, several of them have made their way to Arlington National Cemetary and rest on the graves of fallen soldiers.
Nearly 600 veterans, active-duty military members and their families showed up at TECO Expo Hall Saturday for the event that serves as a big ‘thank you’ to those who serve or have served in the armed forces. One of those guests was Paula Knauss-Selph, a Gold Star mother whose son, Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, was killed in the line of duty when a suicide bomber struck Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 26, 2021. The 23-year-old was one of 13 service members killed.
“Judy and I met and she asked me if I’d attend the event,” said Knauss-Selph, who was touched by the placemats made by the children. One was adorned with stars with a simple message written in the center: ‘You are my Hero.’
Knauss-Selph, who travelled to D.C. for another Veteran’s Day event this week, visited Arlington National Cemetery to spread a bed of rose petals on her son’s grave to remind him that his mama will never forget him. She also set the placemat at the base of his tombstone. “I thought it was fitting to bring it from Florida to Arlington, that even children are taught to love and cherish those that protect them,” she said. “This country is strong because of these men and women being able to stand firm so we can be a free country.”
She attends veterans events to keep her son’s memory alive. “I can only tell you that all the events in the world will never bring him back, all these rose petals can’t make me feel any less pain,” she said. “I know when I go to events that I’m not just honoring Ryan, I’m also honoring those who’ve lost their children, spouses, brothers and sisters.”
Her message to active-duty military and veterans is the sacrifice, while painful, was worth it. “They need to hear from a mom like me, that it’s worth it despite the cost, it’s worth it to know Ryan made a difference in his lifetime,” she said.
Knauss-Selph has made it her mission to honor Ryan through a foundation she created: Respect and Remember. It’s hosting its first fundraiser on Nov. 11 at Overseas Pub & Grill in Marathon, Florida. Money raised will be used to create care packages for active-duty military members being deployed and those returning home.
Plant City will always remember Ryan and all those who’ve served.
Mayor Nate Kilton attended the event and was grateful for the many hands that helped make the event happen. “We are thriving in Plant City, in part, because we have law and order and respect for the men and women who sacrifice to make that happen,” he said.