Marcus Mathes left for boot camp on March 15, 2005, his 23rd birthday. He served in Afghanistan, then Iraq, while his young wife, parents and extended family prayed and hoped for his safe return.
Four months into his Iraq tour, Mathes was killed outside Baghdad by enemy fire.
Monday, on what would have been his 28th birthday, the local post office building was dedicated in his memory.
"He made a very deliberate decision to protect and defend this country every day," said U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, who introduced the bill in Congress renaming the post office on Church Avenue the "Sgt. Marcus Mathes Post Office."
The dedication ceremony took place in the shadow of the small brick building with members of the Patriot Guard Riders holding flags along the sidewalk. City officials, school principals and a state representative joined Mathes' widow, Julia; his mother, Sue Sawyer; father, Ralph Mathes; brothers; grandparents; and other family members soaking up the solemn occasion.
A simple black plaque bearing his name and another with his photo will now hang in the building, still a hub of community and foot traffic in this tidy, picturesque downtown.
Julia Mathes said she was reminded of the closeness of a small town in May 2008 when her husband's body passed through Dade City's streets, where people stood in salute and with their hands over their hearts, on the way to the National Cemetery in Bushnell.
"We'll always remember Marcus, and this will be one of the many ways that you all have contributed to that," she said through tears.
Mathes, a Zephyrhills High School graduate, was a driver in the 94th Battle Support Battalion. He joined the Army after hearing a country song on the radio that became, for him, a call to serve.
His brother-in-law, Bryan Harvey, was nearby when his equipment truck was struck by rockets on April 28, 2008.
On Monday, Harvey, his wife, Heather (who is Julia Mathes' sister) and their children led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Sgt. Mathes' mother, Sue Sawyer, said she was honored that her son was being remembered in such a formal way.
"But on a much larger scale," she said, "he's just one of thousands who serve."
Also among those thousands is her youngest, 19-year-old Zach Sawyer, who recently joined the Army.
"He leaves next Wednesday," Sawyer said, drawing a deep breath.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.