RIVERVIEW – Melanie Adams did something she hadn’t figured on doing on Nov. 11 – step inside a cemetery. Indeed, shortly after arriving at Serenity Meadows Memorial Park, Funeral Home and Crematory for the Day of Honor Veterans Day program, the Riverview resident had to step aside, tears in her eyes.
“It was hard because I didn’t know this was going to be at a funeral home,” she said. “It was very difficult because I have not been at one since my son’s funeral. As soon as I walked in, I had to walk out.”
Her son, Army Staff Sgt. Justin Adams, 31, served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning home and succumbing to cancer on July 21, 2012. “He was full of life,” she said. “Loving, kindness. He would do anything for anybody. He was a hero.”
After her initial shock, Adams took her seat as a featured guest at the Veterans Day program, where an announcement was made at its conclusion heralding the work of the Alafia Ministerial Association to establish a Veterans Day Parade in Riverview, in time for the 2015 holiday.
“They would have an amazing parade, an amazing turnout, because a lot of people can’t go to Tampa” for the parade there, Adams said. “Like me, I can’t drive. A lot of people can’t drive to Tampa.”
Having a Riverview parade, she added, “gives local residents an opportunity remember the men and women who have served.”
The Rev. Don Faling, pastor of the Riverview Gateway Church of the Nazarene, is president of the Alafia Ministerial Association, where The Rev. Merritt A. Waters, First Riverview United Methodist Church, is vice president.
Waters gave the Day of Honor invocation, while Faling ended the ceremonies with a local community announcement heralding the push for a Riverview parade. He said association members have approached veterans and the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce and needs “the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the ROTC and anyone who wants to be a part of the effort to be onboard.
“Our goal is to honor God and country,” Faling said, “and we can use any help that anyone wants to give us.”
Faling said the parade would end at Serenity Meadows, with the support of Stacy Adams, the park’s owner and general manager, who for years has hosted the Day of Honor Veterans Day program.
“We want to make sure however big or small the sacrifice, we want our veterans to be recognized,” Adams said.
Aiding in the Nov. 11 effort were Cub and Boy Scouts from Pack 79 and Troop 79, meeting out of Immanuel Lutheran Church and school in Brandon, and students from Spoto and Riverview high schools. Amber and Kaydee West, students at the University of South Florida, sang the closing song, “God Bless America.”
“We’re Cub Scouts and we’re here to honor the people who fight in the wars,” said Benjamin Bradford, 7, a student at Lopez Elementary School in Seffner.
“It feels pretty special because we know it’s for a good cause,” said senior Michael Vega, who was there to sing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” with the Riverview High School Choir. “The cause is to honor all those who have fallen and who have served our country.”
Air Force Col. Reginald O. Godbolt, commander of the 6th Maintenance Group, 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, made it through his comments with some difficulty as he remembered soldiers “lost on foreign soil” who “never got to wear the title veteran.”
Combat-wounded Houston Tucker transitioned into civilian life after 38 years in the service, including 21 years of active duty.
“I started out in the Marines and finished with the Army,” he said, with tours in, “Vietnam, Panama and the Persian Gulf.”
Tucker was among the many veterans in attendance, including Walt Raysick, president of the Veterans Council of Hillsborough County, and Jim “Moe” Moyer, representing Florida Chapter 11 of Rolling Thunder, a group committed to the remembrance of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
Liz Stewart, choral director at Riverview High, said her students had a busy week performing at the Day of Honor ceremony at Serenity Meadows; the 49th Annual Veterans Day Tribute at Veterans Memorial Park and Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Veterans Museum; and at the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O’ Lakes.
“I know they are tired, but these are important performances,” Stewart said. “We do them to say thank you to the people who make it possible for us to enjoy freedom. Freedom is never free.”
Linda Chion Kenney is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.