'You are our heroes'

Flags and flowers mark Memorial Day, when gratitude is expressed for those who died in military service.

Published May 29, 2007

BUSHNELL - Ralph Summers stood for more than an hour in the hot sun Monday at Florida National Cemetery, among the thousands who came to pay their Memorial Day respects.

Through the color guards and speeches and songs, the 87-year-old World War II veteran from Leesburg kept his feet, watching as vets older than he raised shaky hands to salute the flag. When it came time to sing God Bless America, his voice was louder than most.

He clapped for the four soldiers buried there this year from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "You are our heroes," said the cemetery's assistant director, Candice Underwood. And he clapped again for the main speaker, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.

Summers wavered only once, when the lonely notes of taps filtered through the pine trees.

Then, for a brief moment, he sobbed for the brothers he left behind in the South Pacific, and for his wife buried in the cemetery plot next to his.

They met and married just 21 days after the Army sergeant returned from the fighting in 1944, and he would have been sent back to invade the home islands of Japan if Truman hadn't dropped the atom bomb.

"They picked 10 of us out, and brought us up to Fort Hood," he said, recalling one superior who lined them up before a map of Japan in the spring or early summer of 1945.

"They said, 'Gentlemen,' - and I'd never been called a gentleman by an officer in my life - 'gentlemen, that's where you're going to be. You're going to be in the first wave,' " Summers said. "I was glad to get home."

Standing nearby, Nancy Powers of Bad Axe, Mich., said she was there to remember her father, who served on Guadalcanal and didn't get home until after she'd been born in July 1945.

"He said it was so strange coming back to a wife and two kids he hardly knew," she said. "He said that just a few years ago, before he died."

Other family members headed straight to the grave markers to be with loved ones.

Adel Ramirez of Mascotte stood near his 31-year-old brother, Eric Ulysses Ramirez, who was killed on Nov. 12, 2004, near Fallujah in Iraq.

His promotion to sergeant had come through that very day.

"He was driving," Ramirez said, describing the improvised explosive device that hit his brother's Army Humvee. "Four people were in there, but he was the only one that passed away."

Back at the ceremony, Chaplain Harold Marcou decided to cut his benediction short. He'd save his longer prayers for a cooler day, he said.

"I want to thank you for my people who are resting here," Marcou said.

"Remember them in all your prayers. And pray hard for peace. Pray real hard."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.