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Monday, Sep 01, 2014

Otto: A name I won’t forget on Memorial Day

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This weekend we remember those who have given their lives for their country.

We also remember the ones left behind, the spouses and families who were suddenly all alone.

Tara Fuerst is one of those. When I heard that name the other day, my mind slipped back to when I was a Scout leader with my then-10-year-old son’s Scout pack. I remembered a boy named Joseph Fuerst staring back at me wide-eyed after a ghost story told around a campfire on Egmont Key.

I remembered watching boys running down the beach, off to explore the ruins of the old fort and do whatever young boys do when camping on an island beach.

I remembered an altar boy at Christ the King Catholic Church and a laughing face in a crowd of boys racing wooden cars down chutes in the Pinewood Derby.

I remembered years later, June 24, 2006, when I heard the news that 26-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Fuerst III had been killed in the Panjway District of Afghanistan during combat operations. He had been assigned to the Army National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade when rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire struck his Humvee.

I remembered a flag-draped coffin and a military escort and a group of Boy Scouts in a procession down the church aisle. I remembered that.

I didn’t know Tara Fuerst. They had not been married long when he went overseas. The two had purchased some land near Brooksville to settle down on after he got out that October. She was also in the Florida National Guard as a sergeant and was deployed at the same base in Afghanistan.

“It was so hard,” she said by phone from her new home in Austin, Texas, where she now works with the American Widow Project.

“It was a long time before I allowed myself to laugh again, to feel like I was a part of the world going on around me. That’s why I got involved with this organization.”

The American Widows Project is an organization made up largely of widows of fallen soldiers. They offer peer counseling and other services to widowed spouses and children.

Which gets us to this coming Monday at the AMVETS Post 4, 1014 Skipper Road, Tampa, where there will be a “Memorial Day Recall” at 3 p.m.

The program is the idea of Tim Sullivan. The retired Army sergeant and former drill instructor was looking around for a way to get involved four years ago.

“I still have a son in the Navy in Norfolk. I saw what these women were doing to help each other and decided to have this recall. It’s a program where you read the names of the fallen warriors out loud. This will be our fourth year.

“It’s gotten fairly large. We had around 200 people last year. We sell some $1 hamburgers and hot dogs, have a raffle and raise a little money for the American Widow Project. We’ll play some patriotic music, have a few bugle calls. It’s a good thing.”

It sounds like it. It sounds like exactly the right place to be on Monday. Not only that, Tara Fuerst will fly in from Texas and be at the AMVET center to read the name Joseph Fuerst III on a day we all remember so many other names.

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