Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Thousands gather for Memorial Day service at Florida National Cemetery

BUSHNELL

Every weekend, Susan Guttke drives from Tampa to visit her daughter's grave at Florida National Cemetery.

Guttke, 61, remembers the phone call she received a few days after Christmas in 2005 — her 30-year-old daughter Dana Guttke, who'd been training for a year in Oklahoma to be a mechanic with the Navy, was sick.

"I'm hurting," Dana told her mother.

By the time Guttke made the drive to Oklahoma, Dana had slipped into a coma. She died on Jan. 4, 2006. The cause of death was unknown; Dana had caught a strange bug that was in the air at the base, Susan said.

Guttke sat by her daughter's headstone with flowers on Monday as a panel of speakers and performers celebrated Memorial Day. She was part of a crowd of about 3,000 people who attended an event that's been held each year since the cemetery was established in 1988, said Kurt Rotar, the cemetery's director.

"My favorite thing is seeing the young people that are here and the camaraderie of the veterans," Rotar said.

For about an hour, those in attendance were serenaded by the likes of Linda Burnette, who sang Gone But Not Forgotten, and listened to keynote speaker Mike Prendergast, a retired Army colonel and the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

George Samuelsen, 88, of Spring Hill sang along with the Hernando High School band as the group played a patriotic medley.

A retired Army private first class, Samuelsen remembered serving during World War II.

"God was with us," Samuelsen said.

He traveled to England, France, Germany and Belgium and fought in the legendary Battle of the Bulge, he said.

"He's still alive! Talk about living history," Prendergast said upon meeting Samuelsen after the ceremony.

The 5-acre cemetery was covered with lawn chairs and blankets for the ceremony. Large families brought coolers and staked out swaths of grass. Veterans wore their uniforms.

Jack Williams, 59, of Winter Haven donned his Navy hat. A chief machinist's mate when he retired from the Navy in 1994, Williams watched his son, Christian Williams, enlist in the Marines Corps and become a sergeant.

Christian was killed in Iraq on July 29, 2006, when a suicide bomber drove a propane truck rigged with howitzer shells into his checkpoint. He was 27 years old.

Marines officers came to Williams' door with the news of Christian's death.

"When we saw them, we knew what it was," he said. "My heart broke."

Alison Barnwell can be reached at abarnwell@tampabay.com or (352) 754-6114.

Thousands gather for Memorial Day service at Florida National Cemetery 05/27/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 10:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. A total of 367 men and women reside on death row at Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution, down from 383 at the start of this year. [AP photo (1989)]
  2. Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, right, host MSNBC's "Morning Joe" at NBC Studios in New York on April 14, 2010. President Donald Trump on Thursday assailed Brzezinski in unusually personal and vulgar terms, the latest of a string of escalating attacks by the president on the national news media.
  3. Goliath grouper are anything but gentle giants for Florida fishermen

    Wildlife

    Goliath, the biblical giant, wasn't known for bothering fishermen. But the gigantic fish named after him — they can weigh up to 800-pounds — is notorious for exactly that.

    Biologists take samples from a goliath grouper that was caught in the Gulf of Mexico. The fish was released back into the gulf. Florida fishermen have petitioned the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to allow them to catch the up to 800-pound fish for a limited time. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  4. Volkov hopes to prove his surprise selection right

    Blogs

    RW Alexander Volkov was not a particularly talked-about player in the lead up to the NHL entry draft.

  5. A stunt turns deadly for a couple seeking YouTube fame (w/video)

    Human Interest

    Over the past several weeks, Monalisa Perez of Halstad, Minnesota, and her boyfriend, Pedro Ruiz III, began their quest for YouTube fame by creating and posting videos of mostly harmless pranks: Ruiz climbing onto a tenuous tree branch and falling a short distance, or Perez feeding him a doughnut covered in baby powder …

    Over the past several weeks, Monalisa Perez of Halstad, Minnesota, and her boyfriend, Pedro Ruiz III, began their quest for YouTube fame by creating and posting videos of mostly harmless pranks. On June 26, 2017, authorities say, Perez, 19, shot at a thick book that Ruiz, 22, was holding, apparently believing that the bullet would not make it through the volume. The bullet entered Ruiz's chest and he died at the scene. [Photo from video]