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Pausing to remember

A Veterans Day service at Curlew Hills brings tears for those who've died and prayers for those still serving.

By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published November 13, 2007


Marines Wayne Morgan, left, a gunnery master sergeant who served in Korea, and Bill Cona, who served during the Cuban missile crisis, fire a rifle salute during the service Monday. Veterans Day began in 1918 to commemorate the armistice with Germany after World War I.
photo
[Jim Damaske | Times]
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[Jim Damaske | Times]
Army veteran Harold Ostreich, 79, center, waits to greet Allan Hey, 9, after the annual Veterans Day service on Monday morning. Ostreich was flanked by Rudy Roseman, 93, left, and Melvin Skinner, 92. The three seniors are residents of Westchester Gardens in Clearwater.

photo
[Jim Damaske | Times]
Marine Corps League's Pete Kristall, who served in the Marines between Korea and Vietnam, plays taps Monday at the end of the Veterans Day service at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens.

PALM HARBOR - The flags of the United States and five branches of the military swayed gently in the midmorning serenity of Curlew Hills Memory Gardens.

Near the podium, a small choir sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

And alone in the last row of chairs sat Kitty Sheppard. A few tears rolled down her face.

She was thinking of her late husband, Daniel Sheppard.

He was a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the South Pacific during World War II. He died two years ago at 88.

"This year, I guess it's why I'm so emotional," said Sheppard, 73.

Sheppard was among several dozen people who attended the annual Veterans Day service at Curlew Hills on Monday.

"We pause this day and remember all of our veterans," prayed Dr. Timothy J. Parsch, pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Clearwater. "We remember with gratitude their courage and their strength."

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, spoke of the history that led to Nov. 11 becoming Veterans Day. At the end of World War I in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the commemoration of the armistice with Germany that was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Florida has 1.8-million veterans, Bilirakis told the gathering. The state ranks second in the total population of veterans and has the highest percentage of totally disabled veterans.

"Today we must also take time to remember Americans who are currently stationed in foreign shores," Bilirakis said. "These soldiers, airmen, sailors, guardsmen and Marines fight on the front lines of the global war on terrorism to protect America's sovereign shores."

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jerry F. Custin shared the story of Army Sgt. Eddie Jeffers, whose essay "Hope Rides Alone" has been circulated on the Internet.

The 23-year-old soldier from Alabama addressed the criticism he heard against the Iraq war.

"Even thousands of miles away, in Ramadi, Iraq, the cries and screams and complaints of the ungrateful reach me," Jeffers wrote. "In a year, I will be thrust back into society from a life and mentality that doesn't fit your average man. And then, I will be alone."

Said Custin: "Unfortunately, Sergeant Jeffers won't get to walk down the streets of America next year. On September 19th, he was killed in Iraq."

Custin reminded the audience that veterans come in many forms. A cop on the beat may have spent six months in Saudi Arabia, Custin said. Or a loud-mouth in a bar whose juvenile behavior might be forgiven if people knew of his bravery in the Korean War.

It could be the old man bagging groceries at the supermarket, Custin said. People might forgive his slowness if they knew he helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp.

"So remember each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say, 'Thank you,'" Custin said. "In most cases, it will mean more than any medals they were awarded."

After the service, Kitty Sheppard said her husband left the Army after World War II and worked as an electrician for the rest of his life.

The Detroit native was always hesitant to speak about the war, said Sheppard, who hails from Long Island.

But to him, every day was Veterans Day.

"If he saw a serviceman, especially after the war in Iraq," said Sheppard, "he would go up to this military person, shake his hand and thank him."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or 727 445-4224.

[Last modified November 12, 2007, 21:45:15]


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