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Plant City's suffering tempers the news of bin Laden's death

PLANT CITY — They celebrated on the streets of New York and in front of the White House, but on the thin boulevards of this small town, where funeral cavalcades for dead soldiers have become routine, there was no jubilation.

The people of this eastern Hillsborough County town of about 30,000, who have buried 10 of their own since the fighting started, say the death of Osama bin Laden is welcome.

"It's a long time coming," said Randy Holeyfield, 49, finishing a buzz cut at his barbershop, where each deployment steals customers.

"I'm glad he's dead," said Terry Barlow, 31, who stops work to watch the funeral processions slide down Collins Street.

"So glad," said Judy Dispennette, 65, leaning against a Statue of Liberty mural inside the Brooklyn Bridge Cafe.

But their relief is tempered.

The cost of finding Public Enemy No. 1, and all the auxiliary conflict he caused, is measured here in empty church pews and volleys fired at country cemeteries and full names tattooed across biceps.

It's measured in a list of war dead:

Kevin Akins, 29. James Phillips, 21. Ronnie Ginther, 37. Eric Lembke, 25. Marc Delgado, 21. Paul Orazio Cuzzupe II, 23. David Croft, 22. Cory Clark, 25. Peter Winston, 56. Jody Missildine, 19.

They left behind parents and children and boxes of medals to collect dust in a town that has supplied soldiers since its inception, a place where the bumper stickers say PROUD PARENT OF A SOLDIER and REMEMBER 9/11.

At least 11 men from Plant City were killed during World War II. At least 10 were killed during Vietnam.

Who knows how high the local toll will climb this time, in a war with no end in sight.

Inside a house on Joe McIntosh Road, Melvin Missildine, 63, caught the news on television and paid quiet homage to his grandson, Pvt. 2nd Class Jody Missildine. The boy who loved to curl up beside his Nana on the couch chased the GI Bill into the Army, then died in Tal Afar, Iraq, on April 8, 2006.

When they brought him home and drove him from the First Baptist Church to the cemetery, the cortege stretched a mile down Collins Street. The coin laundry emptied. A woman bowed her head outside China Palace. Men in work boots stood still by the Twistee Treat.

Now his cremated remains sit in a heavy metal box beside the fireplace. His purple heart is inside a glass case with letters from his friends. The goldfish in the pond he stocked for his grandmother before he left have grown fat.

"I'm glad we got him for all the people that died," Melvin Missildine said. "It sends a message. We're not going to stop. We're going to keep on going."

But, he said, the fighting is far from over.

"The Bible says there's going to be wars and there's going to be rumors of wars," he said. "One death won't end it."

"I don't see an end to it," said Ed Brown, on a smoke break at Taylor Rentals. "He was just one guy among hundreds fighting for the same purpose."

"War is inevitable," said Jody Wagstaff, 40, cleaning a bounce house across town. "There are going to be more terrorist attacks."

Wagstaff's son is advancing through explosive ordinance disposal school, getting ready for war, even as the toll here continues to climb.

On April 30, the Department of Defense announced another combat death in Afghanistan: a minesweeper, Marine Lance Cpl. Ronald "Dougie" Freeman, 26, Plant City.

Number 11.

Times researchers Natalie Watson and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

Plant City's suffering tempers the news of bin Laden's death 05/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 11:41pm]
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