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Thousands gather at Memorial Day events to remember those who served

When Jacob Doan graduates from Dixie Hollins High School later this month, he plans to enlist in the Army.

He's a little scared, but mostly excited. He knows he might be called on to serve in Afghanistan.

The 18-year-old says he's not afraid to die for his country. "I believe in God," he said. "I want to learn as much as I can so I can serve my country."

Doan and other members of his JROTC program took part in Monday's Memorial Day service at Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Petersburg. He was tasked with raising the flag at noon to honor those who died in service to the nation.

The ceremony was one of many throughout the Tampa Bay area, the largest of which drew several thousand to Bay Pines National Cemetery, which is the final resting place for more than 29,000 veterans.

There, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, described his childhood growing up in a one-room house without indoor plumbing.

"Back in those days, I never thought I'd ever meet a congressman, let alone be one," Young said. "But that's what America is all about — the land of opportunity, a place where we are free."

Young told the crowd that recent events — the attempted Christmas Day bombing, the shootings at Fort Hood and the unsuccessful Times Square bombing — serve as a reminder of the threats service men and women protect civilians from daily.

At a ceremony at the Hernando Beach VFW post, officials talked about the importance of supporting the troops.

District Commander Kenneth Greenlee, who oversees 11 VFW posts, said he 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."

Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent said civilians need to educate themselves about the military — at home and abroad.

Nugent said awareness for issues such as veterans benefits is 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.

Anne Smith, a St. Petersburg Army veteran who attended the ceremony at Bay Pines with her husband, said that since Sept. 11, people are much more appreciative of military service.

It wasn't always like that, she said, her voice choking up as she described how fellow soldiers were spat on after they returned from Vietnam.

Smith and her husband, Air Force veteran Donald Carson, said they came to the ceremony to remember those who served with them and died in duty.

After the pair graduated from high school in 1964, almost all of their friends went off to war. It was a sharp adjustment for teenagers whose "mothers were doing their laundry for them just weeks before," Smith said.

"You go so far from that, and 12 weeks later you're in a place you probably couldn't have recognized on a map before then," she added.

For Doan, preparing to make the same sacrifice today, there is both apprehension and eagerness.

"It's very emotional to remember all those who have died so that I can do this today," he said.

Sara Gregory can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or sgregory@sptimes.com.

Thousands gather at Memorial Day events to remember those who served 05/31/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 31, 2010 10:10pm]
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