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Bound to a war by family, friends

Families, veterans and friends gather in front of the courthouse to rally for the men and women overseas.

By SUZANNAH GONZALES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003

[Times photo: Stephen Coddington]
In the foreground from left, David Peardon of Floral City, Jack Ziemendorf of Inverness, Chuck Filley of Floral City and Joel Fox of Floral City listen during a support-our-troops rally on the steps of the old Citrus County Courthouse in Inverness.
INVERNESS -- Levina Ornoski of Floral City was there with family members supporting her son Thomas, a 21-year-old Marine in Kuwait. Sharon Webster of Bushnell was there with her husband and other members of Floral City VFW Post 7122. Her son-in-law is in Pakistan with the Air Force.

And Michael Pitts of Inverness was there, too, with his wife, Anne. Pitts' son Gary is in Iraq.

"I'm so proud of that boy," Pitts said, emotional. Gary, 27, "felt he had to do something for his country" and signed up for the Army after Sept. 11, he said.

Pitts, Webster and Ornoski joined more than 80 people at noon Saturday in an impromptu support-our-troops rally, which was held outside the historic courthouse near the war monuments with lists of Citrus County veterans who died.

The event was organized by Joe Cino, an Army veteran. "Someone locally needs to do something," Cino said. "And that someone was me."

He was watching the news last Sunday. The TV showed different protests around the county by people opposed to the war.

He remembered feeling sad and disheartened after returning from Vietnam when he and others weren't supported or recognized. He did not want the men and women in the Middle East to feel the way he did.

"It's not about politics, it's about supporting our troops," Cino said in an interview before the rally. "... This is all about people, men and women who are serving our country trying to do the right thing."

Cino has said he opposes the war, but wanted a rally to show support for the troops. But that did not stop one woman from sharing her political views by holding a sign that read: "Stop Terror Stop Saddam Hussein Now" and "Support President Bush, the right man for the job."

The event began with patriotic music blaring from speakers set on top of Cino's minivan. After the pledge of allegiance and an opening prayer, audience members, veterans and family members of people serving oversees came up one by one to the microphone sharing their thoughts and stories of their connection to the war.

They stood behind a table holding framed photographs of servicemen and women from Citrus County.

Ornoski was one who stood up to speak. She said she was happy so many people showed up to the rally and is proud of her son, Thomas, who grew up in Citrus County. "I'm going to make sure he knows that his county is behind him."

-- Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or

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