By LINDA CHION KENNEY
While Veterans Day affords a chance to honor soldiers past and present, Memorial Day takes a deeper dive into the loss of those who were never able to return from duty. This is the case this weekend at Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park in Tampa.
Formal ceremonies are set to start at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 28, at a park that has a history of growth with the establishment of war and military memorials, the Rear Admiral Leroy Collins Jr. Veterans Museum and the Veterans Resource Center, which opened Dec. 7, 2017 (Pearl Harbor Day).
Having received government approval last year for a $1.65 million Veterans Educational and Cultural Center, the center is set to expand further to provide programming and exhibits to educate the community and its youth about the eras of military service and their historical connection to Hillsborough County and the state of Florida.
With its array of buildings, memorabilia and impressive memorials, passage through the park allows for a deeper reflection of the depth and scope of military conflicts throughout the centuries, as duly noted in the logo for Veterans Memorial Park at 3602 U.S. Highway 301 North. “All Gave Some Some Gave All,” reads the park’s identifying statement, reflecting as well that “The Price of Freedom Is Visible Here.”
Veteran Joe Eletto, founder of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, is a frequent park visitor. According to Eletto, it is not appropriate to put the word “happy” in front of Memorial Day, as “it is a solemn day, a day [for us] to remember.” Moreover, “It is not a day when we go up to a veteran or military member and say ‘thank you’ for your service,” Eletto said. “We can do that the other 364 days of the year, with special emphasis on [Veterans Day] November 11.” More fitting for Memorial Day, Eletto said, “is that we solemnly remember those military members who gave their all in defending our country and helping other countries win their freedom as well.”
In that regard, veteran Walt Raysick heralds the growing number of services, educational offerings and park memorials, a main initiative for the Veterans Council of Hillsborough County. Raysick, treasurer and a past president of the nonprofit organization, served in Vietnam in 1969-70 and retired more than 30 years ago from the U.S. Navy as a master chief petty officer.
Memorial days and memorials “bring home the fact that people give the ultimate sacrifice,” said Raysick, who as an honor guard member has provided military honors at burial sites throughout the years. “They served their country because they loved their country, and they served with honor and distinction.”
Moreover, he said, wounded and traumatized service men and women “deserve every benefit of the military medical establishment and [should] not [be] cast aside or made to become considered a blight on society.”
In heralding the park’s attributes, Raysick pays special notice to the war memorials, starting with the Seminole Wars. The list goes on with the Spanish-American War, Mexican-American War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). There are memorials as well for Committed Forces, Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, POW/MIA and Submariners. The Fallen Heroes/Field of Honor is where every six months names are read and flags planted for the remains of recovered World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans and lives lost in active duty.
Gold Star Families receive the Gold Star banner, which pays tribute to family members who die in service. “We’re raising money now to build a Gold Star Family memorial at Veterans Park, which would be built in front of the Veterans Resource Center,”Raysick said.
According to Raysick, a groundbreaking for that memorial is set for Oct. 21, at the Field of Honor ceremony. To contribute, write checks payable to “Woody Williams Foundation Gold Star Families Memorial Monument” and send to Museum and Parks Committee at Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 U.S. Highway 301 North, Unit No. 3, Tampa, FL 33619.
As for welcoming attendees Sunday to Veterans Memorial Park, Raysick said he is thankful for their pause to remember and that park representatives “hope to have a whole new canopy system erected by then to prevent a direct sunlight hit” on audience members.
For more on park, museum and resource center hours, offerings and updates, visit www.veteransparkhc.org or call 813-635-8316.