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Military News

Altman: Work to begin on Spanish-American War memorial in Tampa

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Published:   |   Updated: July 1, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Back before MacDill Air Force Base was around to pump billions of war bucks into the local economy - heck, five years before the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight - Tampa was a thriving military town, thanks to what has become known as the Spanish-American War.

Even before it began in April of 1898, Cuban independence activist Jose Marti came to Tampa to whip up indignation against the Spanish. But things really changed as the city became a major jumping-off point for thousands of Cuba-bound troops.

None, of course, were more famous than those led by the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and future president by the name of Teddy Roosevelt, a lieutenant colonel who led the 1st United States Voluntary Cavalry Regiment, better known by its well-deserved moniker "Rough Riders."

On Saturday, at Hillsborough County Veterans Museum and Park on US 301 in Tampa, representatives of a 500-member service organization named after Roosevelt's rowdy raiders will turn the shovel on a memorial dedicated to that war, those who fought it and Tampa's key role in it.

"The economic boom from MacDill is nothing compared to what was going on at this time in Tampa," said Charlie Spicola, a former Tampa city councilman who created the Rough Riders charitable group back in the 1970s as a way to both honor the past and try to dig the city out of its fiscal doldrums.

All told, there were about 40,000 troops in a town with about 30,000 residents at the time, said Spicola, a self-described history buff with an encyclopedic knowledge of that era and whose grandfather contributed money to Marti's efforts in Tampa.

The most famous troops in Tampa, of course, were the Rough Riders.

"The Rough Riders had a great number of people from a variety of backgrounds," Spicola said. "They had New York City policemen, millionaires, cattlemen, rustlers, marshals and sheriffs from out West and Indians from New Mexico and Arizona."

They also had a reputation that preceded their arrival in Tampa on June 1, 1898, Spicola said. A reputation that included wild gunfire at a concert in San Antonio, Texas and being ordered to camp outside of Tallahassee out of fear they would tear the place up or steal hogs.

Getting to Tampa was no easy feat, Spicola said. After stopping in Lakeland for the night, they had to hop trains to Tampa. But because there were so many headed into town with war goods and troops, the Rough Riders wound up in Brandon, where they seized wagons from local farmers. They rode the wagons to an area between what is now Howard and Armenia avenues, where the National Guard armory is now.

The Rough Riders trained in Tampa for a few days, then boarded ships bound for Cuba, where they suffered more deaths than any other regiment because of the aggressive nature of their actions, including taking Kettle Hill and later, helping to take San Juan Hill.

Spicola and about 100 other Rough Riders are expected to join members of the Hillsborough County Veterans Council and families of the original Rough Riders at the ground-breaking ceremony, which will kick off 11 a.m., Saturday, at the park, 3602 N. Highway 301. My old colleague Jeff Patterson from News Channel 8, who is the group's president, will be one of the speakers.

Organizers hope the memorial will be completed by year's end, according to Hal Youmans, a member of the park's board of directors and a Rough Rider. The memorial, which received an $80,000 grant from the county, is one of four to receive funds. Other conflicts to be honored are the Iraq War and the Korean War. The Rough Riders, said Youmans, will raise the difference between the grant and the expected $120,000 price tag.

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One of the most impressive places I have encountered in covering those who have suffered wounds and injuries while serving is the Fisher House at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, which offers a place for family members to stay while loved ones recuperate. From talking to people there, I know how much it means to the healing process.

Well, now VA officials are looking to rehab the existing Fisher House, which opened in 2007, and possibly build a second.

The VA Capital Assets Board is considering a plan to renovate the building, according to Haley spokeswoman Karen Collins. "Due to the extent of the work, we would relocate the families to a hotel in the area at no cost during the renovation process," she wrote in an email. "The comfort and safety of our families is very important and this is an opportunity to enhance one of the busiest Fisher Houses in the nation. Renovation will include upgrades to the AC system, fix some wear and tear, and add an additional stairwell."

Because the board has yet to approve the plan, Collins said no figures are available for how much the work will cost.

One of 60 Fisher Houses around the country and Germany, the Tampa facility "is occupied virtually 100 percent of the time and has the distinction of accommodating families for up to three times longer than any VA Fisher House," Collins wrote. "Unfortunately, this leads to times when we are unable to lodge all those in need. That is why we are actively pursuing building a second house. We recently submitted an application for a second Fisher House, and it is under consideration. Once approved, construction on the second Fisher House could begin as early as 2014."

Stay tuned.

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U.S. Central Command will have a new chief of staff. Army Maj. Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general, U.S. Army Alaska/deputy commander, U.S. Alaskan Command, Fort Richardson, Alaska, has been named by the Army to take over the position held by Maj. Gen. Karl Horst.

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I am a sucker for barbecue. I can eat it every day, several times a day and make a pretty mean sauce.

That brings me to this fundraiser, which caught my eye. It's for the USO, which does a marvelous job providing for service members and their families.

Being in Florida, the concept of barbecue season starting in the summer is a bit off, but the idea is that if you are going to hold a big ole barbecue July 4 (or any other day through Labor Day) you can turn it into a fundraiser for the USO.

For more information, go to http://bit.ly/16oTW8S.

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Two soldiers were killed in Afghanistan last week.

Sgt. Corey E. Garver, 26, of Topsham, Maine, died June 23rd, in Zormat, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Fort Campbell, Ky.

Spc. Javier Sanchez Jr., 28, of Greenfield, Calif., died June 23, in Sar Rowzah, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device while on mounted patrol. He was assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

There have now been 2,230 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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