PINELLAS PARK — Hundreds of people lined up outside the C. W. Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center on Wednesday to pay respects to the building's namesake and the family he left behind.
The Seminole Republican who represented District 13 in Congress for 43 years died Friday, and the visitation was the first of two opportunities for those who knew him personally or through his work to say goodbye. Thursday's funeral in Largo is expected to draw thousands, including nationally known politicians and military brass.
The pagentry expected for the funeral contrasts the subdued tone of today's viewing. While some well-known local politicians dotted the crowd, most of those who came, many of whom were military personnel, were there because they somehow knew Young.
“It hurt me really bad because it's hard losing somebody that good,” said Thomas Brown, the assistant state captain of the Patriot Guard, a volunteer motorcycle group that escorted Young's hearse.
Brown, a veteran outreach coordinator at homeless services nonprofit Tampa Crossroads, said Young would go out of his way to get veterans the services they needed even if they weren't in his district.
“Wild horses wouldn't have kept me away from here today,'' Brown said.
Some lauded Young for his down-to-earth approach toward many of his constituents.
“He always said 'hi' to us, always,” said Largo resident Nita Boswetter, who once worked at Bay Pines Veterans Administration Hospital. “He never had his nose up in the air.”
Many elected state and local officials showed up, including Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri, former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, Agriculture Commissioner and former Congressman Adam Putnam and former County Commissioner Neil Brickfield.
“When I was in office, he would say, 'You know, when you need something from Washington, don't hire a lobbyist; just come see me,'” Baker said. “I just had so much respect for that.”
Many who came through did not know him personally but respected his work with the military.
St. Petersburg resident Mark Ellis wore a shirt sporting Young's 2012 campaign logo.
“I can't think of another man that's fought this hard in this community to do so much good for the military,” Ellis said.
While this evening's crowd consisted primarily of locals, a few attendees made the trip to Pinellas County for both services. John R Hawkins III, a retired major general with the U.S. Army, came down from Washindton, D.C. He said he got to know Young while working in the Army's Congressional Liaison Office.
“He wanted to know the real story from real soldiers,” Hawkins said. Eventually, he said, the Congressman became a father figure to him.
“Time went on, and I was promoted to one star. He pinned on that star ... And then when I got selected for two stars, he pinned that on, too. Because I wanted the man that most represented the goodness of this country to pin on my stars, and that's C.W. Bill Young.”
Today's crowd will likely be dwarfed by that of Thursday's funeral, which takes place at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road in Largo.
More than 100 Congressmen are expected to honor Young who, at 82, was the longest-serving Republican in either chamber.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, are among those scheduled to eulogize Young. A letter from former President George W. Bush to Young's widow, Beverley, also will be read at the service.
Accolades started pouring in for Young even before he died, as the popular Republican known for his moderate political views and defense of the military fought for his life at Walter Reed Hospital.
Young will be buried at a veterans' cemetery at Bay Pines VA Medical Center, which likely will soon become yet another of Young's namesakes.
A bill to rename the hospital after Young passed a voice vote on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night and will likely be taken up by the Senate, in a bill introduced by Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, when it returns from recess next week.