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A day for remembering wars and heroes

When John Evans returned home to Michigan after his tour in Vietnam, there were no speeches or fanfare.

"We waited until the '80s for our parades," said Evans, who served in the U.S. Army as a machine gunner for convoys. "Our welcome home was slow in coming, but we finally saw it."

Evans said he is happy to see the country's support for the military today.

He was one of about 2,000 people who gathered at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell in Sumter County on Sunday for a Veterans Day ceremony to honor those who have served in America's armed services.

"Veterans Day means a lot to me this year," said Evans, now 51. "This year has brought out a lot of emotions, but none as much as pride."

Waiting in the shade for the ceremony to begin, Edward Mangano wondered whether it takes events like those of Sept. 11 to make people realize their blessings. Appreciation has been lacking in recent years, said Mangano, a Hernando County resident who served in the Army for three years during World War II.

"Very often, we don't notice it's raining until we get wet," said Mangano, 82.

Dan Baker, chairman of the Joint Veterans Committee, told the gathering that all Americans must once again prepare for a battle in defense of democracy. Many in attendance were younger than the older crowds usually drawn to Veterans Day observances, he said after his speech.

"Children need to know what patriotism is and what veterans have done for them," said Baker, 57, who spent 22 years in the Army, including two tours in Vietnam."The future is in God's hands. He is with us and he knows what the future holds."

Farther south, hundreds gathered at Pinellas County's Safety Harbor Marina Park to remember those who have served or given their lives for freedom and to dedicate the new Veterans Memorial Plaza in their honor. Veterans and family members sat under the new picnic shelters encircling the plaza with a flagpole at its center.

In Land O'Lakes in central Pasco County, more than 100 residents, families and friends attended an outdoor ceremony at the Baldomero Lopez State Veteran's Nursing Home, a facility that provides a home for veterans of several wars.

And at Sims Park in New Port Richey, Miami-based deputy consul general of France Jean Galinier told more than 600 people, "We never forget the sacrifice of the allied soldiers."

He was there to give "Thank You America" certificates to men and women who took part in the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944 and the offensive afterward that drove the Germans out of France.

Veterans Day brought a fresh sense of purpose and pride to Leonard Quigley, 81, of Bushnell.

"It takes something like what happened in New York to wake people up," said the 20-year veteran, who served on Navy submarines during World War II and attended the ceremony at Florida National Cemetery.

Two months after Sept. 11, many still say they cannot fathom the reality of terrorist attacks on American soil.

"Even with all that happened in the Second World War, we never thought we would see things like this happen in the United States," said Quigley's wife, Margaret, 80. She wore a vest festooned with patches from various military organizations.

As young men and women in uniform presented the national colors and led those gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance, Quigley said he was hopeful for the future, but fears the war will last far longer than any America has previously fought. We must stand by the young soldiers, he said.

"That is our future. I don't know how this is going to end," Quigley said, "but I do know how important it is for us to stand together with them."