War's toll hits home

The sacrifice of our military comes into sharper focus this Memorial Day.

Published May 29, 2007

Memorial Day stopped being about the beach and barbecue nearly three years ago for Michele and Don Carey.

For them, the holiday brings a mixture of mourning and memories of their son, U.S. Marine Cpl. Barton Humlhanz.

The 23-year-old was killed on Aug. 26, 2004, in Iraq's Babil Province when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. It was his second tour in Iraq.

"We don't celebrate, " Michele Carey said after a Memorial Day service Monday at Church of the Good Shepherd in Dunedin. "It's pretty somber. It's not as much fun anymore."

Earlier, the congregation said a special prayer for the couple, who moved from Pennsylvania to Oldsmar two years ago.

Fiddling with a gold dog tag imprinted with her son's image, Michele Carey and her husband calmly accepted handshakes and hugs from people as they left the service.

"God bless you, " more than one person murmured, thanking the Careys for their son's sacrifice.

The fate of soldiers in Iraq was on the minds of many North Pinellas residents Monday.

In Palm Harbor, Dorothy Devaney joined about 300 other people gathered for an early-morning memorial service at Curlew Hills Funeral Home.

Every year, Devaney hangs a flag outside her home in honor of Memorial Day.

But on Monday, she felt compelled to do more.

"This year, it just didn't seem meaningful enough, " said the 76-year-old Palm Harbor resident. "We have young people overseas."

Remembering and honoring those who have fought for this county is especially important given the current war, many people said.

"We owe a debt that can never be repaid, " said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, one of two guest speakers at the event. "We must never forget what this band of brothers and sisters have done."

Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Jarvis Lynch detailed exactly what soldiers did in a mini history lesson about the country's past major conflicts.

"It's not over, " he said. "We will have more place names to remember next year and the year after that."

The service was a teaching point for some.

Suresh and Kathy Pai of Dunedin took their children, 7-year-old Sydney and 2-year-old Deven, to the program.

Celebrating Memorial Day by focusing on the sacrifice of others is a tradition they hope their children will stick to.

"We want to instill some values, " Suresh Pai said. "It's very important that we remember those who are serving and those who've lost their lives."

Attendance at both services surged this year, organizers said.

"It's nice to see people start to remember again, " said Keenan Knopke, president and CEO of Curlew Hills Funeral Home.

And remembering is what Memorial Day is all about, said Devaney, who herself spent 20 years as a U.S. Air Force nurse.

And to the troops currently serving, she had this to say:

"We're proud of you. God bless you and stay safe."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4158.