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Eight veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam are awarded medals they either lost or never received.
By Jose Cardenas, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008
[Douglas R. Clifford | Times]
Tucked inside the briefcase Joseph Neill lost years ago in Dayton, Ohio, was the Bronze Star he earned as a soldier in Vietnam. On Thursday, the U.S. Army veteran stepped up to a lectern at Lake Tarpon Village where U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, handed him a replacement. "When I came home from Vietnam, soldiers were not held in too much esteem," said Neill, 61, of Countryside. "It's a very nice thing they are doing here today."
During the hourlong ceremony, seven other veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam followed Neill to the lectern.
Collectively, they received 20 medals they lost or never received after coming home from battle. The honors included Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts, Combat Infantry Badges, WWII Victory Medals, Navy Achievement Medals and others.
Bilirakis learned of their stories through a Veterans Advisory Board made up of residents.
It was the second time Bilirakis presented veterans with medals during his first term in office.
"My service pales compared to their service," Bilirakis told about 100 of the veterans' friends and family members. "What they sacrificed for their country, only they know."
The ceremony was held in the social hall of Lake Tarpon Village, a retirement community just off U.S. 19 with a strong veteran presence.
One of the speakers was a resident there: Monty Monticiello, 73, who served in the Army's 101st Airborne Division.
Looking for fellow veterans, Monticiello began knocking on doors in the village four years ago. He found 237 veterans in a neighborhood of 507 homes.
They formed the Lake Tarpon Village Veterans Organization, which hosted the ceremony.
"I had a couple buddies in the military who died and that's why I started it," Monticiello said.
Steve Pryslak, 87, one of the veterans honored Thursday, came from Bay Pines Nursing Home.
He spoke of being discharged from the Army just before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
But when the United States entered the war, he said he re-enlisted without being drafted.
"While I was overseas, I gave a few bumps and I took a few bumps," he told the audience. "These are awards that you cannot buy. You have to earn them."
People in the audience, some teary-eyed, thanked him.
Frank Cello, 93, of Clearwater, an infantry man, said he waited 61 years for his medals.
Also honored were William Decker, 60, an Army medic; and Marines Eldon Giles, 61, and James Doss, 65. All three are from Palm Harbor and served in Vietnam.
Norman Ressler, 86, of Hudson, came to the ceremony in a wheelchair. He served as a radar man on the USS Brooklyn during World War II.
Finally, there was Lawrence Biondi, 74, of Palm Harbor, who was in the infantry in Korea.
Biondi choked up talking about his two grandsons serving in Iraq.
Someone in the crowd said: "God bless your grandchildren."
Jose Cardenas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4224.
[Last modified February 21, 2008, 22:17:49]