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Retirement community gathers veterans' stories into a book

Navy vet Ed Bedore, his wife, Dee, left, Sandy Ross and her husband crafted a book of veterans’ stories to be unveiled Sunday at a Regency Cove ceremony. 

TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times

Navy vet Ed Bedore, his wife, Dee, left, Sandy Ross and her husband crafted a book of veterans’ stories to be unveiled Sunday at a Regency Cove ceremony. 

SOUTH TAMPA

They charged beaches, parachuted behind enemy lines and guarded the president.

A little more than a year ago, Ed Bedore started gathering their stories. They're all his neighbors at the Regency Cove retirement community.

What he found surprised him. Of the 600 seniors living there, 83 had served their country, nearly 14 percent.

"I think that's a pretty high percentage," Bedore said.

Indeed, Florida has more veterans from World War II than any other state, according to Phil Budahn, spokesman for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

It's impossible to pinpoint when they will all be gone, Budahn said. In February, Frank Buckles, the last U.S. World War I veteran, died at the age of 110.

The United States put 16 million in uniform during World War II, and of those, 1.5 million are still living. Florida is home to nearly 138,000. This year, the VA predicts the state will lose 23,500 of these men and women.

As part of what is known as the "Greatest Generation," they lived through the Depression, jitterbugged to jazz and signed up to fight by the multitudes.

One of those stories spurred Bedore to action. At a community potluck dinner last year, he sat next to Robby Roberts, who had been a 19-year-old fighter pilot in 1942, the youngest to fly a P-38. During a kamikaze attack against American ships, Roberts told Bedore, he shot down three Japanese Zeros. Although the two men had been neighbors for years, Bedore had never heard Roberts' story; nor had many others at Regency Cove.

Later that night, Bedore awoke from his sleep in the complex off W Gandy Boulevard. He wondered what other stories might one day be lost forever.

Bedore is an 83-year-old retired Navy seaman first class who also served during World War II. He decided that stories like his and Roberts' should be preserved for history's sake. He enlisted the help of a neighbor, Sandy Ross, 62, who was married to a veteran.

They began interviewing neighbors. Some had served in Korea, Vietnam and the invasion of Grenada. A few had even fought in the Yom Kippur War, also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

They ranged from age 54 to 96. At least one had lied about his age, enlisting at only 16.

They had pictures and medals in closets or displayed on walls in the community. Still, some were reluctant to revisit memories.

Bedore and Ross compiled the stories with photos into a book: The Veterans of Regency Cove: An Anthology of Memories.

With help from their spouses, Dee Bedore and Mike Ross, they printed 135 spiral-bound copies and sold them all for $10 each. The books will be delivered Sunday during a community ceremony attended by officials from MacDill Air Force Base and veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has proclaimed Sunday "Homes of Regency Cove Veterans Day."

• • •

Chip Lacava, 86, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was separated from his unit and was lost for two days before being captured and held by German troops for six months.

While wounded in Italy in 1944, Wade Nimon, now 96, alerted his squad to an attempted surprise attack.

Joe Marchitto, 78, served as a security officer, flying with President Dwight D. Eisenhower and other dignitaries.

Wally Helbig, 6 feet 6, wore a size 15 shoe. The Army had no boots for him, so during marches he rode on a truck wearing his dress shoes, said the 79-year-old.

Many others served as cooks or in medical units. Two women served in public relations and physical therapy.

In the close-knit community bordering Tampa Bay, a central statue of José Gaspar smiles over their annual Gasparilla celebration with a small fleet of boats and a parade of bicycles and decorated golf carts.

They meet regularly for sock hops, potlucks and funerals.

Sharing their veterans' stories in the book is another bond.

Bedore, who served stateside as a typist, says his experience was the least of any. But his work to compile the others' stories adds to his own sense of service. Other retirement communities should do the same, he said.

"I hope it catches on," he said. "That would be rewarding."

Time is always of the essence.

Two veterans have died since the book project started. Paul Oschwald, who was 78, retired in 1993 as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, having served as a combat crew pilot. George Belba died on Oct. 15, his widow said.

Through the book, their stories live on.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected]

. fast facts

To learn more

For tips on compiling other veterans' stories, email Ed Bedore at [email protected] or Sandy Ross at

[email protected]

Retirement community gathers veterans' stories into a book 01/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 12, 2012 3:30am]
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