ST. PETERSBURG — Sitting in the shade of towering pine and oak trees, hundreds gathered at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center Monday to honor service members, past and present.
Young and old — from Junior ROTC members to those who survived World War II — came to pay tribute on this Veterans Day. Older veterans stood with walkers or sat in wheelchairs lining the perimeter of the outdoor courtyard, which was arrayed with simple white folding chairs.
The message, too, was simple: Never forget the sacrifices of America’s military men and women.
“Today, we need to recall that it was these men and women — not politicians, not athletes, not entertainers — who at great personal cost gave us the gift that few in the world enjoy today: the gifts of liberty and democracy that are still the envy of the entire world,” said retired U.S. Marine Col. Robert H. Chase Jr., now the deputy director of operations at the U.S. Central Command’s Interagency Action Group.
Many in the audience wore red, white or blue, and some wore hats emblazoned with the names of the conflicts in which they fought: Vietnam, Korea and at least one from World War II.
Tuesday’s ceremony evoked both smiles and tears.
As the choir from the Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg flawlessly performed “The Battle of the Hymn of the Republic,” Gold Star Mothers Annette Kirk and Lorrie Fleming were recognized for their sons, Paul Cuzzupe and Terry Lisk, both recently killed in action. A 21-gun salute and a brassy, solemn rendition of “Taps” closed out the ceremony.
The calls to remember and honor veterans may have sounded most loudly, though.
“Today, we come together as a nation to remember, honor and pay tribute to our nation’s heroes,” Suzanne Klinker, director of the Bay Pines VA Health Care System. “It is a day of remembrance, of gratitude.”