Looking around at the hundreds of veterans and their families seated at the Memorial Day ceremony at Bay Pines National Cemetery, Kathy Gilbert of Seminole swelled with pride and gratitude.
"I get emotional on this day because I think of all the other people who have lost loved ones, and I'm just really, really appreciative of the sacrifice they make," Gilbert said Monday with tears in her eyes.
Her husband and father served in the military, and her close friend recently lost a son in combat.
Pinellas County's largest Memorial Day event, which lasted about two hours, drew more than 2,000 people.
Over the weekend, Boy and Girl Scouts placed American flags on each of the cemetery's nearly 32,000 graves.
The presentation included ceremonial drills conducted by local Junior ROTC teams, a musical performance and several speakers, including U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young.
In his remarks, Young emphasized that American soldiers fight to protect the Constitution — an element that he believes is often ignored in patriotic ceremonies.
"If we allow our Constitution to be ignored, this country's in trouble," Young said. "Then what our soldiers fought for in the Constitution might have been in vain, and we can't allow that to happen."
Memorial Day should remind people how important it is to reduce violence around the globe, said Robin Saenger of Tarpon Springs, whose father-in-law — a World War II veteran — is a patient at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.
"You look around and see all the people of all ages who are in wheelchairs or missing limbs, and you see faces of their loved ones and kids — it's tragic," Saenger said. "It's the highest service, but it's still very tragic."
Everyone should thank and give back to veterans through volunteer work, said Bay Pines hospice volunteer Loy Ann Stottler, whose husband and two sons are buried at Bay Pines.
"If it wasn't for what all of them have given and their families, we wouldn't have a right to stand here," she said, gesturing toward the graveyard and its sea of flags.
Contact Lauren Carroll at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenFCarroll.