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Veterans on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa pay respect to fallen soldier

TAMPA — As the hearse rolled by bearing a U.S. government seal and the remains of Army Spc. Eric Lembke, veterans on Bayshore Boulevard Thursday afternoon stood ramrod straight and saluted.

The casket was making its way down Bayshore Boulevard from MacDill Air Force Base, then to the Channel District, before the motorcade-led procession took State Road 60 and then the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway on its way to the Hopewell Funeral Home at 6005 State Road 39 in Plant City.

The husband and father of two was killed by a roadside bomb on Oct. 23, according to the Department of Defense.

Lembke, 25, was a graduate of Plant City High School.

Yellow ribbons clung to trees all along Bayshore as about 100 people lined the waterfront waving flags to pay respects.

People such as Michael Sparks, an Air Force security forces worker stationed at MacDill, who came wearing his fatigues on his day off.

"I would have been out here, military or not," said Sparks, who had been deployed in Iraq for a year.

Bruce Matthews, 78, a Vietnam veteran who served with the National Guard and Marine Corps Reserve, came to give Lembke's remains and family the reception Vietnam veterans never received.

"I used to have to sneak home from Vietnam," he said. "It just seemed it was always 2 o'clock in the morning when we got into Travis Air Force Base."

Visitation for Lembke will be on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Plant City First Baptist Church, 503 N Palmer St., and the funeral will be at the same location on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or

Veterans on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa pay respect to fallen soldier 11/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 9:20pm]
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