Monday, June 18, 2018
News Roundup

Hillsborough Veterans Council honors fallen troops in a service that needs fewer flags

TAMPA — As flags filled the small patch of earth, Walt Raysick worried he would run out of space.

One small flag waves for each American service member killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. There are thousands of them clustered together in this field of honor, an honor that carries no names but compels eyes to water from the grief that it represents.

Through 10 years of conflict, the losses kept growing.

But as Raysick prepares this week to plant more flags during the quarterly public ceremony, a bit of relief lies among the solemnity.

This is the fewest number of flags he has needed in years.

The United States has pulled its troops out of Iraq and will so, eventually, in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is dead. Troops have trained to better identify improvised explosive devices.

The lower casualty numbers hold no promise of a continuing downward trend, but Raysick and others in the military community can't help but hope this is the beginning of the end.

"I'm praying," said Raysick, president of the Veterans Council of Hillsborough County. "Hopefully, it'll keep coming down."

On Saturday, people in the community will read the names of about 70 U.S. military members killed since October. Those who attend the ceremony at Tampa's Veterans Memorial Park will help plant the foot-tall flags in the Field Of Honor.

December marked the official end of the American military mission in Iraq. That month, no U.S. troops died in Iraq, according to icasualties.org, an independent website that compiles military death counts. Fifteen American service members died in Afghanistan in December.

That's the fewest American casualties in Afghanistan since 2009, the website shows. And it follows a particularly deadly summer in 2011, in which monthly casualties totaled at least twice as much: In August, the United States marked 71 fatalities related to the war in Afghanistan.

As of Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Defense reported 6,348 casualties from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Among the dead is Army 1st Lt. Dimitri del Castillo, 24, who died in Afghanistan in June.

Before he died, del Castillo completed several missions and came under fire several times, said his father, Carlos del Castillo, who lives in South Tampa. The Army officer was proud to have never lost one of his own.

After his death, the del Castillo family drew support from the community. They received photographs of their son, heard about memorials dedicated to him and directed donations to the Wounded Warrior Project.

But Carlos del Castillo says he doesn't want anyone else to endure the same loss.

"I'd love for the number to go down to zero," he said.

He plans to attend Saturday's event, along with the family of Army Cpl. Frank Robert Gross. Gross, 25, was killed in July in Afghanistan when an IED blast caused his vehicle to roll over.

His mother, Antonia Gross of Oldsmar, has helped launch a new chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers, a service organization for parents whose children were killed in war.

Nobody wants to become a gold star mother, she said.

For her, the wish is for the Field Of Honor ceremony to end — for there to be fewer and fewer flags until they only need to honor living veterans.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

Comments

Updated: 1 hour ago
Mazzaro’s market set to reopen Tuesday after blaze damaged one of its warehouses

Mazzaro’s market set to reopen Tuesday after blaze damaged one of its warehouses

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market is scheduled to reopen Tuesday after an electrical fire broke out its dry goods warehouse Friday night.Dominic Horwath, a grocery manager at Mazzaro’s on 22nd Avenue N said staff spent Monday and the weekend...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

After winning Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep by the hot Yankees in New York, the Rays face arguably a tougher challenge tonight when they face a sizzling Astros team that just completed a 10-0 roadtrip and has won 11 straight overall.The Rays are ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Land O’ Lakes dance studio serves students and community

Land O’ Lakes dance studio serves students and community

LAND O’ LAKES — Lilly Jayska once cried and cowered at the notion of dancing on stage. Now, after four years of classes at Nicole’s Dance Center in Land O’ Lakes, the 10-year-old wants to dance solos. When asked to name her favorite type of dance, he...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Tuesday’s letters: Keep programs that fight AIDS

For author Biden, it’s a father’s gift | June 6Keep programs that fight AIDSAfter former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to St. Petersburg, I noticed an article that he co-wrote with former Sen. Bill Frist. It reminded everyone about the ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

TAMPA — Iceland isn't what it used to be. Literally. The Nordic island country is shrinking, what with global warming. Iceland's glaciers are getting smaller. If you took all that ice and laid it end to end, well, you clearly have nothing bette...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Where’s the new VA clinic going? Not in the city of New Port Richey

Where’s the new VA clinic going? Not in the city of New Port Richey

NEW PORT RICHEY — The federal government’s search for a home for its new Veterans Administration community outpatient clinic is focusing on the Little Road corridor in west Pasco.Three locations in the running for the VA clinic are identified in the ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here."I just played (crappy), completely. That...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

A Tampa man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries on Sunday after he was rescued from a near drowning off the shores of Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Bar & Grill, a popular hangout on the beach of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.When police officers a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Developer Grady Pridgen buys St. Pete’s shuttered Edward White Hospital

Developer Grady Pridgen buys St. Pete’s shuttered Edward White Hospital

ST. PETERSBURG — Edward White Hospital, closed four years ago because of declining revenues, has been sold to developer Grady Pridgen for $2.7 million.Pridgen could not be reached Monday for comment. City officials said he has submitted plans for rem...
Updated: 3 hours ago