TAMPA - Tony Sledd graduated from Gaither High School three springs ago. But in death, his memory will forever be a part of life there.
Sledd, the Marine lance corporal killed Oct. 8 by two Kuwaiti civilians who opened fire on his unit, was remembered at the school Tuesday evening as his friends and family gathered to dedicate a flag, a stone memorial and a scholarship in his name.
"It is an honor to have the flag that flew for Tony at half-mast over the Capitol to be displayed at Gaither High School," said his mother, Norma Sledd. "From this school, in these classrooms and hallways, Tony dreamed about his future. And through this scholarship in his memory, I know he is smiling, just knowing that other Gaither students will be helped to realize their dreams."
After graduation, Sledd enlisted in the Marine Corps with a plan: four years of service, then college, then a career in law enforcement, and ultimately a position in the FBI. "We wanted to do something so that all future Cowboys will remember Tony Sledd," said principal Ken Adum, "so that Tony's memory will live on."
The Sledd family donated the U.S. flag that hangs in the Gaither cafeteria. The school came up with the idea for the 300-pound granite stone that reads, "In honor of a great American and Gaither alumnus, Lance Cpl. Antonio Sledd c/o 2000, 6/7/82 - 10/8/02." It will go at the base of the school's "spirit flag" pole at the football stadium. And Sledd's family, along with the Hillsborough Education Foundation, created the annual $1,000 scholarship for a Gaither student.
"Every student who walks through the doors of Gaither High School will look upon this memorial and remember Tony for what he was, an outstanding student and a friend to all," said assistant principal Henry Strapp. "Gaither High School will proudly display this flag in memory of Tony Sledd . . . forever."
In addition to Sledd's mother, other family members attending the ceremony were his twin brother, Michael, also a Marine, his grandfather, Antonio Figueroa, and his aunt, Iris Figueroa. The audience was filled with the school's ROTC students and dozens of Sledd's friends.
One of them, Patrick VanTreese, who knew Sledd since the two were 10-year-olds, said Sledd always had a "kick butt" attitude on life. VanTreese said he was awed by the stone memorial. "Now the students here will know this school produced a hero."
Raymond Benefield, an agriculture teacher who taught Sledd for four years, said the ceremony provided a sense of peace for him that not even Sledd's funeral achieved.
"I spoke at Tony's funeral, but there still wasn't any closure until today," Benefield said. "I don't see him as a fallen soldier. I see him more as a rising angel."
- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at email@example.com