Some walk into the warm beige- and brown-colored coffee house in Temple Terrace two or three times before noticing the wall adorned with photos of military men. It's easier to be drawn to the smell of fresh roasted Kenyan beans, the comfort of the couches in the tidy seating area or the stunning mural of Mount Kilimanjaro rising on the wall opposite the counter. However, once the photos, along with the folded U.S. flag and the framed prints featuring the lyrics of My Country, 'Tis Of Thee and the Marines' Hymn catch customers' eyes, they often stop and stare, reading each of the names.
The faces stare back, offering a hope we know is gone, an innocence that can't be recaptured and a pride that lives on in the hearts of family and friends — especially on this day.
Most of all, the "Heroes Corner" inside Cafe Kili reminds husband-and-wife owners Patrick Gachau and Rose Waruinge of the sacrifice their oldest son made, and the commitment their youngest son is making.
Yes, six years after 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Kevin G. Waruinge and 12 other Marines lost their lives when their assault vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Iraq, Raphael Waruinge serves as a West Point cadet.
That heartening contrast and the prideful photos all help tell of the love Patrick and Rose share for Kevin, Raphael and their third son Antony.
And they illustrate the passion these Kenyan natives share for their adopted country.
But it hasn't been easy.
They were initially and understandably reluctant when Raphael came to them with his desire to pursue a West Point appointment.
After graduating from Hillsborough Community College, he attended a recruiting event.
His interest heightened as he learned more, but he couldn't fully commit without the approval of his parents.
Rose talked with veterans and prayed with friends. She had to feel it in her heart to give her blessing. Eventually, she and Patrick both came to appreciate Raphael's willingness to serve.
"When he got the news he was accepted, we had to support him," Patrick said.
Supporting their sons always has driven Rose and Patrick. They endured culture shock after arriving in Tampa in 1997, taking a taxi from the airport and taking up residence in an Embassy Suites while they struggled to get an apartment.
Having left behind good jobs, family and friends, they initially questioned the decision to immigrate here and wondered if they should go back. Their young sons saw none of the challenges — just the fact they lived in a place that had a pool and free breakfast.
"The honeymoon period lasts for six months, and then after six months, reality sets in," Rose said.
They would ultimately find a place of their own, land jobs — Patrick with Barnett Bank, Rose with Time Customer Service — and begin down the path to the American dream.
The love for their new country only grew as they watched their sons grow and prosper. They earned their citizenship in 2003.
Only when Kevin died did they think of returning to Kenya.
"That was the time I wanted to go home and forget about everything," Patrick said. "We talked to our sons and they said, 'You're forgetting about us, too.'
"We had to remember we had two other sons."
So they remember Raphael and Antony, a University of South Florida graduate who works for a research company.
They also remember Kevin — and the Marines who died with him. And they long to help those who have endured a similar sacrifice.
Three other families have added photos of their lost veterans to the wall. Patrick attends the local funerals of fallen soldiers, telling parents they, too, can have a spot in Heroes Corner, if they want.
"Most of them have said, 'Yes,' but I don't expect them to do it quickly," Patrick explained. "We talked to a lady last year, and she just brought in her son's photo a couple of months ago.
"I know it's a process. Healing is a long process."
But it's not a process Patrick and Rose aren't willing to endure for the love of their sons.
That's all I'm saying.