Nine years ago, nearly 15,000 people were there. Five years ago, a president dropped by. Four years ago, war protesters began showing up.
But most Friday afternoons? The only people on the Bayshore Boulevard median are a half-dozen members of the Bayshore Patriots, the group of men and women who have waved American flags every week since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Bill Hamblin, 64, is one of the regulars. He almost never misses a Friday, which gets him thinking about what it looks like when a country finally moves on.
The other day, he was looking at old photographs of early Pearl Harbor memorial events.
"They were huge," he said. "And now?"
On a recent Friday, Hamblin was standing with his flag on the Bayshore median. Some cars honked. Hamblin waved and recalled another day, five years earlier, on that same spot.
"There was a guy with a gun up there," he said, pointing to the roof of a nearby condo. "And one on a boat out there. And there was the helicopter."
And then, he recalled, a long limousine pulled up to the curb.
"He stops right there," said Hamblin, "and he goes 'Well, hello Cousin Bill!' "
That was President George W. Bush's visit to the intersection. These days, Hamblin watches out for a lady in a Cadillac, who always stares straight ahead as she lays on the horn.
Started by three women in a South Tampa aerobics class, the Bayshore Patriots caught the attention — and earned the appreciation — of military personnel leaving MacDill Air Force Base, including then-Gen. Tommy Franks. ("Tommy mentioned us four times in his book," Hamblin said.)
The Patriots organized the one-year memorial ceremony, an event that brought out 15,000 people and a roster of guest speakers, including then Gov. Jeb Bush. It was one of the largest ceremonies in the United States that year.
The Patriots had an office, a checking account with money in it, a side mission that included throwing Thanksgiving dinners for the international coalition members stationed at MacDill.
None of that exists now. One reason is the economy. When the group sent out letters to past corporate sponsors of the Thanksgiving banquet, many of the cards came back undeliverable, Hamblin said.
And something else is at play.
"I'll be honest with you," he said. "The rah-rah is gone."
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Hamblin, a 64-year-old retired Tampa cop, joined the Patriots soon after it formed. He grew up in New York City and knew the names of some of the first responders killed on Sept. 11.
He served during the Vietnam War and said when he returned to the U.S., he ended up in San Francisco. "We got spit on," he said. He said he didn't talk much about Vietnam — until after 9/11.
Everybody was feeling patriotic then, he remembers. Everybody wanted to wave the flag and bless America.
"I got my pride back," he said. "A lot of the bitterness had worn off."
He went out and bought a Vietnam Veteran hat. Joined the American Legion. He bought a flag that bears the names of the 9/11 victims and took it to memorial events.
He can point out the remnants of eye shadow stain when a woman grabbed the flag, held it to her face and started crying. He said he felt like he was helping in some way. He said it felt good.
So it never occurred to him over the last decade to stop his Friday ritual. His wife doesn't usually go anymore — the heat gets to her — but every Friday Hamblin grabs his flag out of a utility room, puts it in his truck and shows up.
Everyday, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Standing and waving.
Now the Bayshore Patriots are being honored again for their vigil. A memorial that incorporates a beam from the World Trade Center's north tower is going up on the Bayshore median where members stand. The dedication ceremony is at 4 p.m. today.
The memorial will work like a sundial. Architects are using a computer model to figure out the angle the sun will strike the ground on Sept. 11 at the time the plane struck the north tower and the time when the tower fell. The beam's shadow will fall on the first marker at the time the plane struck. It will fall on the second marker when it fell.
The idea is to reflect those tenuous moments, when no one knew what would happen next.
Naturally, Hamblin will be there. He said he'll keep going until all the troops come home. He wishes he knew when that day would be.
Reach Jodie Tillman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.