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Veterans gather to pay tribute to POWs, MIAs

They also prayed for people who were killed Sept. 11 and those who will be called to duty.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 23, 2001


TAMPA -- David Storck has never worn a military uniform or fought in a war, but his support for the armed forces runs deep.

Especially now that his stepson, Paul David Alexander, a special forces member out of Fort Braggs, N.C., has been called on to fight terrorism.

Storck was among hundreds of people, mostly veterans, who took part in the POW/MIA Tribute Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park. Storck, of Plant City, said he wanted to feel closer to his stepson, whose current location is unknown for security reasons.

"There's not a whole lot citizens can do" except to support the military, he said.

Area veterans came together to pay tribute to missing soldiers, as well as to honor the thousands killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Singing God Bless America, they prayed for the victims and all those who will be called to duty.

"Our sense is more fear this time than ever before," said David Braun, treasurer of the Veterans Council of Hillsborough County, which organized the event. "They are coming to get our grandchildren."

Members of each military branch presented hats in memory of the people who lost their lives protecting freedom. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Perry, who is based at MacDill, carried a yellow firefighter hat.

At least 79,000 service men and women are still unaccounted for from World War II alone, Braun said, a Vietnam veteran. "Lest we forget is our motto."

Mary Ellen Harlan, a member of the veterans council, urged veterans to be strong and to assist families whose loved ones will be called away to fight in the upcoming months.

"You've got to on living and help your fellow man," she said. "A lot of people don't know what they are going into."

Others said they are willing -- and eager -- to re-enlist.

"For as long as I can carry a gun, I will serve my country," said veteran Cozmo Horman, 37, of Riverview. "If we could sit down at the table and talk to these people, I think that would be wonderful. But that's not going to happen. They started this and we're going to finish it."

The tribute was held in recognition of National POW-MIA Day, which was Friday. Organizers passed out cheese, crackers and water, the only food many prisoners of war had to eat. They also set up a small table with a place setting and empty chair for those who are missing.

Chris Carrican of Tampa said the event offered comfort during difficult times. A retired firefighter from Trumansburg, N.Y., he hasn't moved far from the television since planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"We wanted to come and pay our respects to the armed services and to America," he said.

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