Community service earns IRCC resident induction to Hall of Fame


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Retired Sgt. First Class Juan Santiago has been inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Courtesy of Juan Santiago

When Indian River Colony Club neighbor retired Lt. Col. Skip Taylor recommended that Juan Santiago be considered for the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame, the retired Sergeant First Class and his wife, retired Lt. Col. Carmen Nizzi-Santiago, were floored.

“We didn’t even know there was a Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame,” Carmen said.

They know now after Santiago was selected for the 2019 Class to the Hall of Fame. It recognizes veterans who, through their military service and beyond, have made significant contributions to the Sunshine State. Santiago was one of only 16 in the state to be honored with the award last year.

A native of Puerto Rico, the 81-year-old Santiago served in the Army for 22 years, including five years in Vietnam, where he earned two Purple Hearts. After retirement, Santiago, as he puts it, “followed his wife” to assignments in Germany and Italy where, while working as a GS recreation specialist, he saved the life of an Air Force major general who had suffered a heart attack. 

In 1992, the couple moved to IRCC and Santiago began working with the Florida Marlins in their minor league operations at Space Coast Stadium. When not working, he would walk through the stands to talk to veterans.

During his 15 years as a U.S. Army Recruiting Command Center of Influence/VIP, Santiago has worked closely with Brevard, Osceola and Pasco counties Army recruiters, interfacing with businesses, schools and families in a variety of events. With more than 1,500 hours at high school classrooms and special events, Santiago has connected with students in all of Brevard’s 16 high schools. He has mentored students on life goals, citizenship and service. Santiago also often can be found at JROTC competitions, coaching and encouraging cadets.

For more than two decades, Santiago has adopted the widow of an Army buddy. He calls the now-almost 100-year-old, with no close relatives, twice a day, visits her several times a week, shops for her and takes her to appointments.   

Juan and Carmen are frequent visitors to Fort  Benning in Georgia and Fort Jackson in South Carolina. In the past two years, the couple made 12 trips to these Army bases to cheer on graduates of basic training. 

“Sometimes, their families can’t attend. So, we are there for them,” said Carmen.

Santiago was recommended for the Veterans’ Hall of Fame for embodying the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selflessness, honor, integrity and personal courage.

“Juan is the epitome of a soldier for life,” continuing to serve military, veterans and civilians alike,” wrote Taylor in his nomination letter.