By PHYLLIS HODGES
The strong patriotic spirit in Sun Cit Center was again demonstrated in Sun City Center on Memorial Day. Hundreds—many attired in red, white and blue—attended the tribute to deceased veterans.
Confusion abounds about the difference between Memorial Day, held on the last Monday in May to honor the men and women who died while serving in the military, and Veterans Day–observed every November 11—to recognize all who have served in the Armed Forces. The meaning of Memorial Day has morphed over the years and observance ceremonies in some communities include all deceased veterans. Such is the case in Sun City Center. This year’s tribute recognized 150 SCC veterans who were lost in the past 12 months. A Living Flag Tribute was a poignant part of the program. As each of the 150 names was called, a flag bearer stood, as did family and friends of the deceased.
The event, held in the Kings Point Veterans Theater, was sponsored by nine area military veterans organizations: Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Military Order of World Wars (MOWW), American Legion Post #246, Disabled American Veterans of America (DAV), Bob’s Vets, Sons of the American Revolution, USCG Aux Flotilla 75, Silvery Osprey Squadron #64 and Vietnam Veterans of America.
The tribute began with a procession of program participants and guests led by Master of Ceremonies Lt. Col. Benny Blackshire, U.S. Army (Ret), and Grand Marshall Brig. Gen. G. William Smith, USAF (Ret).
In his opening remarks, Blackshire pointed out that Florida is home to 1.5 million of 20 million U.S. veterans and expressed pride in all the area military groups who worked together to make the Memorial Day Tribute possible. He extended gratitude to the participants and the Kings Point staff for “setting everything up just the way we wanted it.” Among the honored guests this year were three WWII veterans: Del Connell, George Tamburello and Maurice Lanouette. All three are centenarians or will be this year and attend the weekly Bob’s Vets meeting.
Guest Speaker for the 2023 Tribute was Hillsborough County (HC) Commissioner Mike Owen. He included in his remarks the many services provided by Hillsborough County to meet the needs of its thousands of veterans. Adding a political tone to his address, Owen said he truly believes that we honor our veterans by preserving the nation’s ideals. He emphasized the need to rally around the call of freedom and work across the aisle to meet the challenges that we face as a country.
Owen then made a presentation to HC Master Deputy Jeff Merry to recognize his outstanding community contributions.
The Trinity Baptist Church Choir, directed by Rev. Jim Burns, was again on hand to present its Salute to the Armed Forces and other musical interludes. Lt. Col. Paul Wheat, U.S. Army (Ret), led the Rendering Bell Honors, and Father Tim Cummings (US Navy veteran), Prince of Peace Catholic Church, offered both Invocation and Benediction prayers.
Posting and Retirement of Colors were performed by The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard.
At the conclusion of the program, Blackshire led a contingent outside for a wreath-laying ceremony with the American Flag flying proudly above.