Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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

The Hillsborough Veterans Council conducts ceremonies to honor the fallen from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including this one in 2010.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times (2010)

The Hillsborough Veterans Council conducts ceremonies to honor the fallen from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including this one in 2010.

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, 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 or (813) 661-2443.

.fast facts

Field of Honor ceremony

The quarterly ceremony is at 10 a.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 U.S. 301 N in Tampa.

Hillsborough Veterans Council honors fallen troops in a service that needs fewer flags 01/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 5:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For Fourth of July, an American feast inspired by founding father Alexander Hamilton


    Are there a million things you haven't done? Is one of them throwing a patriotic party inspired by one of the founding fathers?

    Caribbean Pork With Potato Salad makes for the perfect Fourth of July meal.
  2. 'Baby Driver' literally turns heist movie genre on its ear, set to slick soundtrack


    Buckle up for Baby Driver, a movie so full throttle cool that you want to fist bump the screen. Style is the substance of Edgar Wright's inventive heist flick, a fresh, masterful synching of music and getaway mayhem, as if La La Land's traffic jam was moving, armed and dangerous.

    Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver for heist arranger Doc (Kevin Spacey). Plagued by tinnitus, Baby tunes out his distracting “hum in the drum” by listening to music while he drives.
Sony Pictures
  3. Former mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor
  4. Life after HB7069 to be discussed at Pinellas school district workshop


    The Pinellas County school district is still trying to navigate life after the controversial passage of HB7069.

  5. Sens. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, were among the highest-ranking local lawmakers on the Florida Society of News Editors' "Sunshine Scoreboard."