TAMPA — Three-year-old Cali Harrison asked her grandpa what was in his hand.
"This represents our country," he told her, and they counted the 50 stars on the American flag together.
At a ceremony Sunday, Cali took the little flag and waved it. She stuck it in her ponytail as her grandfather, 44-year-old John Harrison of Dover, thought about war.
In the newly renovated Veterans Memorial Park, speakers for a Memorial Day ceremony read the names of recently killed local military — "the ultimate sacrifice," they kept saying.
All Harrison could think about, as a retired Air Force veteran who served in the Middle East, was the fear and the loneliness those young fallen heroes must have felt.
"They died over there so the battle doesn't have to come here," Harrison said.
About 200 people attended the event, a 15-year Memorial Day weekend tradition in Hillsborough County, said organizer Dave Braun, co-chairman of the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum Committee. Among the park patrons stood several county commissioners and state Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City.
Keynote speaker and MacDill Air Force Base commander Col. Lenny J. Richoux touted local involvement in recent conflicts while acknowledging the sacrifices. He mentioned six military members whose bodies have returned to Tampa in the past year.
Dozens more from Hillsborough County have died in the past decade's wars.
"It hurts," Richoux said. "I know how much it hurts."
Retired Air Force veteran Norman Lameyer listened, knowing that pain.
"It bothers me," said Lameyer, 79, of Riverview, "but I still come, I'll still be there."
When he remembers the fallen friends he once lived with, "all the manhood leaves you," Lameyer said.
In the crowd, hands slid caps off heads, saluted and covered hearts as people memorialized those lost in war.
A veteran's service dog yelped and howled along with the Marine Corps' hymn as soloist Charles Haugabrooks sang a salute to the armed forces.
Later, in the back, rifles fired. A bugler played taps, and everyone turned toward the music, facing the thousands of worn flags planted in a garden. Each flag in the Field of Honor represents a death from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After the ceremony, Navy veteran Daniel Levengood, 40, knelt to straighten a tipped-over flag. "Just be glad," he said, "we didn't end up a flag stuck in the ground."
Stephanie Wang can be reached at email@example.com.