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A tribute to veterans Pasco can be proud of

A final battle for some Pasco military veterans ends today. It culminates a successful struggle against skepticism and apathy to build an appropriate reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of 72 brethren.

Pasco County, home to 62,000 military veterans, honors its war dead at noon today, Armed Services Day, with the dedication of a 72,000-pound cement, steel and granite monument outside the West Pasco Government Center. It includes the names of the 72 Pasco County residents killed in combat, from Wylie Arnett in in World War I to Harry L. Thain in Vietnam.

Though the county matched the private donations and government workers did the concrete and electrical work, the memorial would not have become a reality without Jack Kinney and Gene Osborne of the Florida Vet PAC. Three years ago, they resurrected the dormant idea to construct the monument and spearheaded a successful fundraising campaign. It garnered pennies from schoolchildren, dollars from public sector employees and private sector contributions.

The real boost came a year ago when the Pasco County Commission, at the request of Property Appraiser Mike Wells, agreed to match the donations. Wells is credited with promoting the idea of a permanent memorial nearly a dozen years ago when he sat on the commission. A design change in the construction of the Government Center, which opened 4{ years ago, eliminated the intended space for the monument, and nobody lobbied for a replacement until Vet PAC raised the issue in 1997.

Wells, who serves as master of ceremonies for today's event, acknowledged he had his own doubts about the memorial becoming reality. The monument in west Pasco is a scaled-down version of Kinney's original idea to have dual memorials on each side of the county.

Commissioners, veterans and the public at large can be proud of the cylindrical tribute adorned with a bronze eagle. The county has been supportive of veterans _ donating land for the state veterans nursing home and naming the county recreation complex in Hudson for veterans, for example _ but formal memorials are few. The band shell outside the newly refurbished Historic Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City had been the most noteworthy until today.

"It's time the county recognized these fallen heroes, and that's exactly what they are," Wells said. "Without them, none of us would be here."