ST. PETERSBURG — Clad in badges and khakis, Scouts from Troop 236 pledged to the flag and the memory of Col. William Wood at the memorial constructed over weeks of labor.
Patrick Prior, 15, knew he needed to complete a service project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. The Osceola Fundamental High School student searched for inspiration from his grandfather and settled on a covered structure with seating to accommodate the putting green and shuffleboard courts at C.W. Bill Young Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
"It's what an Eagle project is all about, improving society," Patrick said when the day finally came. "The veterans here, they deserve it. … It's one of the most important things in Scouting."
There was no need for fundraising from the moment Patrick announced his plans. Family, friends and veterans who caught word of his project donated more than $3,500. Patrick counts himself lucky to have a large family and friend base to contribute to costs throughout construction. Their contributions led him to earn the Eagle Scout designation on Feb. 10.
It was halfway through the project that David Prior suggested to his son that the project be a memorial. Wood studied at Florida State University with Prior and participated in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Prior joined the Reserves while Wood continued to climb military ranks until earning the title of colonel in Iraq. He was killed by a roadside improvised explosive device shortly after promotion. Wood left behind a wife and teenage daughter.
"Col. Wood was a very squared-away guy," Prior said. "The Scout motto is: 'Be prepared.' Colonel was that, he lived that."
The troop turned its weekends over to the project, more than 395 cataloged hours. The wood posts weighed 300 pounds, but there were enough hands to help raise them, including Russell DeBerry, a 20-year carpentry expert.
"I just like helping the Scouts," DeBerry said. "Providing the tools and the knowledge to do it. It helps to teach them safety, responsibility. Once you start a job, you have to finish it."
Service projects for Scouts are usually simpler, according to Boy Scouts coordinator Candice Nyarkoh. Flower beds, benches, and birdhouses are the most common service projects.
"What is really amazing is that they dedicated it to a fallen soldier," said Nyarkoh of the 90-year-old troop. "This is a legacy for them. Not only have they been one of the longest troops in this area, but they've also done something to memorialize somebody like that."
Half an hour after the family left for the memorial dedication ceremony, a letter from Nanci Wood, the colonel's widow, appeared in David Prior's email inbox.
"My daughter Rachel and I are deeply touched that this shelter is dedicated in Bill's memory," Wood wrote. "It is our hope that it will provide a place of peace and rest for our wounded heroes and their families."