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Remembering fallen comrades
By ROBERT FARLEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2000
PALM HARBOR -- Aided by his wooden cane, Raymond L. Irwin, 80, pressed on in the muggy heat through the rows of graves adorned with flags.
"I've got something important to do," explained the former Marine, who donned a VFW beret and badges won from six battles in the Pacific during World War II.
In what has become a yearly ritual, Irwin made his way several hundred yards to a more remote section of Curlew Hills Memorial Cemetery, to the grave marker of a veteran he never met.
It was in this same area two years ago on Memorial Day that Irwin came across a man in tears. The man said he was from the Midwest and friends of his back home had asked him to check on a family member's grave at the cemetery.
"See that they get a flag on his grave on Memorial Day," the family had asked the man.
But when he came upon the grave for Howard E. Grenly, there was no flag.
Irwin, of Dunedin, pointed the man toward members of the Fleet Reserve Association, Branch 109. The group, which represents enlisted personnel in the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, every year sponsors a Memorial Day celebration at the cemetery, as it did again on Monday.
It is a short ceremony. A bell is rung at five-second intervals and a commemorative wreath is placed at the foot of the Circle of Valor memorial as a symbol of devotion to fallen comrades With a call of "Attention on deck!" the color guard posts its colors.
This year's guest speaker was Marine Lt. Col. Paul K. Schreiber of the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Schreiber called on the roughly 150 who had gathered at the ceremony to "give thanks for an America made possible by the ultimate sacrifice of America's GIs, an America of unlimited opportunity and incomparable abundance. And at some point before the end of the day, let us also pause and offer a silent prayer that our actions, as individuals and as a nation, might continue to be worthy of their sacrifice."
The rifle squad fired several shots, followed by a trumpeter playing taps. And then the assembled, most of them veterans and their spouses, sang God Bless America.
Afterward, a handful of people made their way to the cemetery to pay their respects and gently lay flowers next to the gravestones of loved ones who served in the armed forces.
Before the ceremony, members of the Fleet Reserve Association had gone around to adorn the graves of veterans buried in the Veterans Garden with American flags. But they don't go up to the area where Grenly is buried. So Irwin makes a point each year to see that Grenly's grave gets a flag.
"I'm looking out for him, for as long as I'm around," Irwin vowed. "Us soldiers, we look out for one another."
"Silly, isn't it?" said Irwin, who still has shrapnel lodged in his chest from one battle.
Irwin doesn't know whether Grenly, who was born in 1924 and died in 1996, ever saw any combat. Nor does he care. He served, Irwin said, evidenced by the parachute on his grave marker that denotes he was a paratrooper. And that is enough.
Irwin pressed the flag into the ground next to the grave and paused a while.
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