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    General leads Tampa crowd in saluting Sept. 11 heroes

    At a local luncheon, New York police and firefighters hear Gen. Tommy Franks call them the insurance policy for the American dream.

    By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 4, 2002


    TAMPA -- U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks told the crowd at the eighth annual law enforcement appreciation luncheon that his wife's advice for his speech was that he shouldn't try to be glib or intelligent.

    Just be yourself, she said.

    [Times photo: Toni L. Sandys
    Resident conductor Thomas Wilkins leads the Florida Orchestra in "America the Beautiful" at the eighth annual law enforcement appreciation luncheon Friday at the Tampa Convention Center.
    The line got a laugh from the hundreds of firefighters and law enforcement officers gathered at the Tampa Convention Center Friday, as did much of Franks' keynote address.

    The crowd came to praise the officers of the year from local police and fire agencies and to remember colleagues who were wounded or killed in the line of duty.

    Also attending what was billed as the largest luncheon of its kind in the country were dozens of police officers and firefighters from New York City, who received a rousing cheer when introduced.

    Franks told all of them that they were the insurance policy for the American dream, the "unlimited liability contract." Without them, a mediocre student from west Texas like himself would not have had a chance to become the commander of the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.

    Franks praised their courage as well as the courage of the troops fighting the war on terrorism at home and overseas. He said the battle will be fought for as long as it takes. This is about our way of life, he told them.

    "America is not a thing," he said. "America is people."

    Returning to his self-effacing style, Franks ended his short speech with a lesson he learned from a book he read in the fourth grade about Roman leader Julius Caesar.

    The book taught Franks that Caesar was a general who talked a lot and made long speeches.

    "They killed him," Franks said.

    After the speech, Franks lined up for a photo with the New York officers. He shook each one's hand and signed autographs for anyone who asked.

    "I'm reassured after hearing him speak," said New York City police Officer William Owens. "It was funny but also inspirational."

    New York police Detective Ronald Pino said the luncheon left him feeling proud to be an officer. The level of support in Tampa was enormous, he said. Pino and many of the other New York officers are in town to play a football game against their Tampa counterparts.

    "They make us feel great," Pino said. "Although I don't expect the Tampa guys to take it easy on us on the field."

    The speech, combined with the slide show of firefighters and police officers in action set to a live performance by the Florida Orchestra, sent chills down firefighter Tom Magee's spine.

    "This is really a huge event, one that people should be proud of," he said.

    Inside and outside the convention center, heavily armed tactical response teams stood guard. The street next to the center was closed to traffic. No major problems were reported.

    The luncheon also saw the unveiling of a new stamp to commemorate the law enforcement and firefighting heroes who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks. The stamp depicts the now famous image of three New York City firefighters raising an American flag in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

    The stamp will cost 45 cents, 11 cents more than a regular first-class stamp. Thirty-four cents will pay for postage, 3 cents will go to the Postal Service for administrative costs, and 8 cents will go to the families of law enforcement and emergency workers killed or disabled in the attacks. The 205-million stamps printed could raise an estimated $16.4-million for the cause.

    -- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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