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Reflection marks day

Solemn and celebratory events mark Memorial Day throughout the county.

By JODIE TILLMAN and CAMILLE C. SPENCER
Published May 29, 2007


Memorial Day was officially proclaimed in May 1868 to honor the Civil War dead. Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Union Army veterans' organization, said this at the time:

"Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic."

Then in 1971, Congress said this: Let there be a three-day weekend. The holiday, which had grown to honor all U.S. war dead, was moved from May 30 to the last Monday of the month.

Thus, the modern-day contrasts of rituals both reverent and irreverent that play out every Memorial Day, a holiday that at once commemorates fallen soldiers and heralds the start of summer.

Here are glimpses of the way people in Pasco County spent the day.

* * *

The seven men formed a line. They were the honor guard at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7987 in New Port Richey.

Each faced forward, spine straight, rifle in hand. They wore crisp white shirts, black pants and berets emblazoned with their post's number.

Seconds later, a small crowd rose from their chairs inside the building off Seven Springs Boulevard. A few did a military salute.

Then, the seven men turned left, in synch, heading toward an exit. Out they went, lifting their rifles to the sky.

Gunshots pierced the sky in the afternoon heat. Each of the seven men shot their weapons three times.

It was the military's honorary 21-gun salute.

* * *

Across town Monday at Hudson Beach, one thing was evident: Summer is here. Let the excitement, the disappointment, the peace and the battles of families and friends begin.

A little boy with green floaties jumped into shallow water. A little girl cried out for what is hers: "Daddy! Where are my floaties? Daddy!"

Bob Myers sat in the shade of a pavilion and started on Page 1 of his summer read, David Baldacci's The Collectors. Above him, on the landing, a woman taking pictures of four other adults put her camera down and shook her head. "Look a little more loving!" she urged, and they moved closer.

Out in the sand, David Ledbetter watched his 4-year-old son, David Neil, push race cars through the sand. "I thought he wanted to swim," said Ledbetter, "but he just wants to play in the dirt."

Two couples and their kids, including one with a red cast on his arm, walked from the parking lot, their flip-flops flipping fast. The boy with the broken arm was skipping. The beach! The beach! Then they got to the end of the sidewalk. "Where's the sand?" asked one woman. "This can't be it."

* * *

At VFW Post 7845 in Port Richey, after the speeches and the special guests, the ceremonies and the somber memories, out came the food.

Inside the building on Stone Road, a crowd of 50 piled picnic fare atop Styrofoam plates.

They sipped ice cold Coca-Cola, Miller Lite and Faygo grape soda. Some smoked cigarettes. Others milled at the bar.

At the beach, just after noon, four very red hamburger patties hit a grill. Nearby a man wearing a T-shirt that said "Serenity" serenely watched his hot dogs cook.

In a pavilion they'd decorated with red, white and blue streamers, four families - the Stagnittas, the Edwardses, the Emsinnas and Ribaudos - protected their cooked meat by using miniature canopies and their health by using plastic cups labeled with their first names. Was "Bob" finished with that orange soda?

* * *

Every year, dressed in a red, white and blue striped shirt, blue pants and white sandals, Dottie Anderson remembers him.

Her husband, Andy, served 29 years in the U.S. Navy. He died three years ago.

She's all right for most of the day, proudly displaying American flags on her car and in front of her house. But later, when she heads to VFW Post 7987, the 21-gun salute always gets to her. Her sniffles broke the room's silence on Monday afternoon.

"I keep thinking, my husband was in the service," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "I think of Andy in uniform, navy blue and gold."

* * *

Under a pavilion at Hudson Beach, Jim Goodrum was sitting quietly, letting his hat - "I'm Retired. This is as dressed up as I get" - do all the talking when his breathless 13-year-old grandson ran up to him.

The boy had a shell.

"Look, he's still alive!" said the boy, holding the live shell up.

"Put him back," said Goodrum.

"But look -"

"Put him back!" said Goodrum, this time with feeling. "Let him live." Battle lost, the grandson retreated to the water.

* * *

Toward the end of a short ceremony Monday afternoon, a recording of taps echoed through VFW Post 7987. Then, a moment of silence.

At Hudson Beach, Justin Elkins, the sunburned lead singer of Queen Anne's Revenge, belted out a tune.

"In the space between/the lies and SUFFERING, SUFFERING," he sang. He and other bandmates were playing their guitars as they sat on the seawall.

Queen Anne's Revenge is from Arkansas and describes its style as "Southern screamo." ("Kind of country and rock, " one says. "Kind of weird," says another.) Three bandmates and a friend have been living in their van.

Two young boys wearing swimtrunks and goggles approached the band as Elkins continued singing of suffering. When it was over, one boy asked: "Were you guys wealthy when you lived in Arkansas?"

"No!" guitarist Joe Ferguson said. "That's why we left."