Three generations of the Mountain family gathered at a Pearl Harbor Day commemoration Tuesday to honor their father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Varise Mountain, the 16th Hernando County serviceman discovered to have died in World War II.
When the Telephone Pioneers of Spring Hill and We Remember 27-H-1 established a memorial garden at Chocachatti Elementary School 10 years ago, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided a list of 15 county natives who died in the war, said organizer Robert Muehlbauer.
The Pioneers planted 15 trees and installed a bronze plaque with the 15 names. They left a blank spot on the plaque and an open space in the landscape in recognition of the Unknown Soldier.
Four years ago, Mountain's daughter, Patty Webb of Brooksville, attended the memorial service and saw the name of her father, a Merchant Marine from Brooksville, was missing. Mountain went down with all hands when his petroleum supply ship was torpedoed off the coast of Greenland.
Webb approached Muehlbauer, who set about making the memorial right.
On Tuesday, Webb, speaking for herself and her sister, Bobbie Mosher of St. Petersburg, said, "There's a reason that space was there, for our father."
The sisters haven't missed the memorial service since, bringing along their own children and grandchildren who represent three generations of Mountains.
Noted Mosher, "There was never a grave, so that's why this is so important to us."
Webb and Mosher were invited to place flags at the plaque.
To remember those who died in the war that was ignited for the United States 69 years ago Tuesday, Chocachatti students inserted flags at each of the trees — now 16 — as school superintendent Bryan Blavatt read off the names of each man who died.
In brief comments to an audience of about 30 onlookers, Blavatt said, "It makes me happy that our schools recognize those who served (so) we have all the freedoms we have. We can never thank them enough."
He added, "We have to remember the past to move on to the future."
Chocachatti music director Nancy Kraus led the school chorale in a program of patriotic songs, with attendees invited to join in.
A dozen students performed additional pieces for strings under the tutelage of strings director Sally McCarthy.
Among the violinists, Isaiah Pederson, 10, knew about Pearl Harbor. "It was in World War II and Japan bombed it," he said.
Pederson's grandfather served in that war. An uncle is now serving in Afghanistan, he added.
Ted and Lisa Kessel of Brooksville had a dual purpose in attending the service. His grandfather fought in World War II. The couple's 8-year-old daughter, Jessica, sang with the program's chorale.
Norman Faust, 75, of Brooksville took particular pride in being on hand. "I'm part of the Telephone Pioneers. We set it up," the 75-year-old gestured to the memorial landscape. Faust was a Navy reservist in the 1950s. His late brother was a sailor during World War II.
Faust and Muehlbauer noted that when the trees were planted, they were mere sticks. Some now tower above 20 feet. Muehlbauer said the trees, donated by a nursery that prefers to remain anonymous, are of five varieties.
"The servicemen were a variety," he explained.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]