Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

Dade City retirees create their own veterans memorial, brick by brick

DADE CITY

The landscaping, thin from age and shriveling in the sun, needed a makeover.

But Micky Graham, a retired Marine, had a better idea for the space in front of the community hall at Travelers Rest, a resort mainly for snowbirds that includes an RV park and mobile homes.

"They asked me if I could raise $1,200 to make the place look better," Graham said.

Why not build a tribute to those who served in the U.S. military? It was an easy sell.

"All I did was get up on song night and ask." The result a year later was $35,000, enough to establish a veterans memorial and set aside money for the upkeep.

"We're home to a lot of veterans," said Richard Revell, a 69-year-old retired Army sergeant who designed the memorial and served in Germany from 1961 to 1964. "I saw the Berlin Wall go up."

Most of the money was raised through selling bricks engraved with a veteran's name. Bricks cost $100 for the first and $50 for each additional brick. The memorial also includes flags and granite markers for each branch of service as well as a POW-MIA flag. The Stars and Stripes fly in the center, a bit higher than the rest. Solar-powered lights illuminate them after dark.

"I sold bricks over the summer in Texas," said Graham, 78, who splits his time between the Sunshine and Lone Star states.

So far the group has sold about 450 inscribed bricks, though not all of them have been installed in the walkway. The residents had no trouble finding worthy veterans to honor. Most of them were old friends or relatives.

Graham bought a brick for Kenneth Shadrick, a classmate who was among the first soldiers killed in the Korean War.

"He wanted me to go in with him," Graham said. "He dropped out of school and lied about his age." He also bought one for Jacob Albert, an ancestor who was a spy for Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution.

"He was at Valley Forge and nearly froze his feet off," Graham said. "Still, he took care of himself and lived to be 99."

Some Medal of Honor recipients also are represented, including Hershel "Woody" Williams, a Marine demolition sergeant who advanced alone during the Battle of Iwo Jima and spent four hours destroying enemy positions when American tanks were held up by Japanese guns, minefields and rough island terrain.

Russell Stearns, 83, a Navy lieutenant commander, bought a brick for Lt. J.G. Barnes, who was killed when his fighter jet burst into flames during an accident in 1956.

"I saw it explode in midair," he recalled. "We were both just kids then."

Men from the 1,500-member resort did the legwork, clearing weeds, digging holes and laying down the 12 tons of granite stones that line the bed of the memorial.

"The only thing we had done professionally was the bricks," Graham said.

In addition to bricks for veterans and war heroes, there's one for Toni Gross, president of the Gold Star Mother Tampa Bay Unit. Her son, Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross, 25, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan in 2011. He has a brick, too.

Some other communities have also created monuments honoring those who served in the U.S. military. Residents at Tiki Village mobile home park in Holiday, for instance, collected $3,500 back in 2003 to build a memorial on the park's front lawn. Black granite surrounds a statue of a bald eagle clutching the American flag, which sits behind glass, encased in stainless steel.

An inscription in the stone reads, "Let's not forget our men and women who served. … Love your country and remember that it took a lot of sorrow to have our flag waving proudly."

Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

 
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