HERNANDO BEACH — An audience dressed in red, white and blue shifted in the stifling midmorning heat as the Armed Services Medley drifted across the parking lot.
"If you've served your country," said Russ Moore, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9236, "then stand when you hear your service's song."
And one by one, men and women of all ages rose from their chairs.
An 85-year-old old man who flew 30 missions in Germany during World War II.
A father who just came back from his fourth tour of Afghanistan.
It's for the sake of these veterans that civilians should strive to educate themselves about how the military works, at home and abroad, Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent said in the keynote address during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at the VFW post.
"The troops take an oath to protect and support the United States," Nugent said. "There is no such oath for you and I."
Nugent said awareness for issues such as veterans benefits is becoming increasingly important as soldiers return from Afghanistan and Iraq, especially because a smaller percentage of the country is now involved in the military.
Less than 1 percent is now active, compared to 11.5 percent during World War II, said Nugent, a Republican candidate for Congress.
Moore said the crowd was the largest he could remember in 18 years of Memorial Day ceremonies.
Members of the audience hummed along or put their hands on their hearts as the Nature Coast Children's Chorale sang God Bless the U.S.A. and America the Beautiful.
An honor guard of six former Marines fired a three-shot salute as taps played in the background, and two more performed a flag-folding ceremony.
The ceremony finished in less than an hour, with a blessing from women's auxiliary chaplain Marcia McKillop.
District Commander Kenneth Greenlee, who oversees 11 VFW posts, said he agrees that people should become better educated about military affairs.
But Greenlee said he also has noticed an uptick in interest from younger generations.
"Terrorism, the Trade Towers, bombing attempts," Greenlee said. "Younger people are seeing all that happen, and understand that what's happening in the world today is important."