TAMPA — His mother was born during an Allied bombing raid in Hamburg, Germany, during World War II. His grandfather was a German army officer who dodged incendiary bombs to find a midwife.
Somehow baby and parents survived. U.S. Air Force Col. Andre Briere, deputy commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, is thankful for that.
Those were his mother and grandparents.
At a Veterans Day tribute held Sunday at Veterans Memorial Park east of Tampa, Briere said his background offers something of a lesson about the freedom American veterans, both dead and alive, bought with their blood and sacrifice.
Briere, keynote speaker at an event organized by the Hillsborough County Veterans Council, told more than 100 veterans and their families about a classmate at the Air Force Academy. His name was Yamamoto.
He was the grandson of Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese fleet commander in World War II.
"The fact that the grandsons of World War II enemies could be sitting together in Economics 101 at the Air Force Academy barely 40 years after a great world war is a testament to the world you made possible and it's a testament to the character of the American people," Briere told veterans in the audience.
He said his grandfather cooperated with Allied intelligence during the war when he became aware of atrocities committed by Hitler's government. After the war, the Allies installed him as Hamburg's deputy mayor, Briere said.
Briere said the nation must maintain a strong defense and citizens should never take for granted those who stand watch.
He said the United States' enemies "slink away in fear" because of the bravery of those in uniform.
"For they may have heard the words recently retired Gen. James Mattis shared with his Marines in Afghanistan," Briere said. "And I stress to you it was in Afghanistan. He wasn't talking about the United States. That is, 'Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.' "
The crowd erupted in one of the loudest cheers of the event.
Sunday's event provided a reminder of the passing of one generation with the emergence of another. Just a few surviving World War II and Korean War veterans attended.
The ones who did watched three Junior ROTC drill teams from area high schools perform outside the park's Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Veterans Museum.
"We're trying to instill leadership in our young people today, to be honest, to do the harder right," said retired Navy officer Larry Jordan, a JROTC commander at Leto High School. "That's what we're all about."
Vietnam veteran Doc Riley dressed up as Uncle Sam in a wild red-white-and-blue costume with matching hat. He said it was important to remember all veterans dating to the nation's Revolutionary War. He noted that 40 or more of his own ancestors died in the Civil War.
"More Americans died during that war than all other wars combined," Riley said. That sacrifice, he said, should never be forgotten.
A nearby park monument was etched with words repeated several times Sunday. It says, "Freedom is not free."
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]