By KEVIN BRADY
“I remember all of their names, every single one.”
Sixty-eight years on, the memories are still fresh for Harold Heil, a former U.S. Army combat engineer who fought his way off Omaha Beach in the days after D-Day.
“We fought across Europe for 11 months,” recalled Heil, who lost 13 members of his squad in one night during the Battle of the Bulge, Nazi Germany’s last futile offensive. “I am here to remember their contributions and those who served on the home front as well. They provided us with food, ammunition and courage.”
More than 800 people turned out to honor the armed forces May 27 at a Memorial Day commemoration at Sun City Center.
“Too many people today, especially younger people, don’t understand the real meaning of Memorial Day,” Jennifer Carroll told the audience at the Borini Theater. While many treat the national holiday as an excuse to go to the beach or shop, “it’s a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Florida’s former lieutenant governor said.
“We are here to remember those who gave the last full measure of their devotion, as Abraham Lincoln said, so millions could bask in the light of freedom.”
Carroll, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, said those who have served in the armed forces and their families know better than anyone “that freedom is not free.”
While American troops have taken the battle overseas again since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the U.S. is not there to interfere, Carroll said. “We are not the world’s police, we are liberators.”
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Larry Chambers served as grand marshal for the “Recognition of Our Community Military Veterans and A Tribute to Our Departed Comrades.” Students from East Bay High School’s JROTC Color Guard presented the colors at the event, which also featured the Trinity Baptist Church Choir. A roll call of departed comrades, where every name of a local veteran who died in the last year was read out, was accompanied by a living flag tribute.
“Our very survival as a country depends on what veterans have done,” said retired U.S. Navy Commander Edward Socha.
Aboard the USS Maryland on the “date which will live in infamy,” Socha recalled Japanese torpedoes slamming into the USS Oklahoma moored beside his own ship in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. “It was a horrendous day that I will never forget,” said Socha.
The event was sponsored by Sun City Center veterans groups.