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Citrus presses on with WWII memorial

The county's 9,000 World War II veterans deserve some recognition as part of a statewide memorial effort, officials say.

Collectively, they have been called "the greatest generation" for their service to their country in the armed forces during World War II.

In Citrus County, there are approximately 9,000 men and women who served in the war that changed the world. Efforts to honor their sacrifices have been going on nationally and statewide for some time and now the local work to create a memorial is beginning.

This month, the County Commission appointed Annetta Burch to be chairwoman of a local committee to create the Citrus portion of the memorial.

"I became interested in the World War II Memorial in Washington when I heard about it and I was appointed to be representative in this area," she said, noting that she helped as much as she could to raise support for that project.

"Then when I found out that Florida was doing one, I felt very strongly that I wanted to be involved," Burch said. "This was my parent's generation and I felt really strongly obligated to do something."

Burch, whose father, uncles and other relatives served in the war, has been preparing invitations for local residents to serve with her on the committee, which will determine how Citrus County fits into the state's overall memorial plan.

On the state level, the memorial will take a variety of forms and will stretch across all 67 counties involved in the process.

Plans now call for the memorial to include a permanent World War II exhibit in the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee and a major traveling exhibit that will be featured in select museums and other community venues across the state, according to a letter to former County Commissioner Brad Thorpe from Frank Reese, chairman of the Florida Commission on Veterans Affairs.

Other plans include a statewide network of World War II resources, including interactive Internet information, a color booklet released as part of the Florida Heritage Trail series, and World War II public education programs for school children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Reese told Thorpe in the letter that every county was being asked to participate because "WW II was an epochal event that touched every American family and community."

The tentative time frame sets the opening of the traveling exhibit as Dec. 7, 2001, and construction of the primary World War II memorial, ordered by a bill passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush, to begin by June 2005.

The state estimated that 248,000 Floridians served in the war, but today, 600,000 make the state their home. Estimates show that the generation is fast disappearing, with 1,000 World War II vets dying nationwide each day.

Royce Carter, Citrus County's veterans' affairs officer, said he hopes the memorial effort will get strong support locally. With 23,500 veterans total living in the county and thousands of others who are dependents of veterans, there are plenty of Citrus residents who will relate to the sacrifices of World War II veterans, he said.

Burch said she doesn't know what the local plans will be like, but she is excited to be involved on the ground floor of anything that will honor such an important group of veterans.

"My generation was the Vietnam War. I've been to see that memorial and it brings tears to my eyes," she said. "I'm really excited about this opportunity. I just feel very, very strongly that the time is right and we should do something now."