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EVENTS HONOR VETERANS' SACRIFICES

Richard Hardesty can tick off the countries he visited during his 25 years in the Air Force the way some folks list favorite vacation spots.

Vietnam. Korea. Iran. Morocco. Germany. France.

It could be brutally hard service. Hardesty, 81, of Seffner recalled the astonishing cold and relentless enemy in the Korean War. He spent Christmas 1953 on a troop ship off Seattle. It was not his last holiday overseas. And he said he would do it all again.

"It was a good life," he said. Then after a pause, he added, "A good life, in spite of the wars."

Residents throughout Tampa Bay and the nation marked Veterans Day on Tuesday, honoring the sacrifices of an unbroken line of veterans that date to the Revolutionary War in ceremonies that acknowledged the often-painful price of freedom.

And to many of those who mark the day, it's important to honor that sacrifice because so many veterans like Hardesty, in an interview after a Hillsborough ceremony, modestly shrug it off.

"When our country said, 'Who shall I send? Who will go for America?' You stood up. You raised your hand and said, 'Here I am. Send me.' And thank you for that," said retired Army Lt. Gen. James R. Ellis, the keynote speaker at the Veterans Day Tribute in Tampa held at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum.

Ellis, who served 35 years in the Army, is the former deputy commander in chief and chief of staff at U.S. Central Command, which has headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base.

In St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman and other city officials kicked off their inaugural Veterans Day Celebration in Williams Park.

"Whether you served in times of peace, in a conflict, or in a war, the city of St. Petersburg thanks you," Kriseman said.

The mayor then presented the 2014 "Honored Veteran" award to Herb Polson, a former City Council member and Navy veteran who served 31 years.

Polson fought tears and said he did not feel worthy of the honor. He said he planned to go to the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center (formerly Bay Pines) later Tuesday to be with other veterans.

"They'll tell me stories, and I'll tell them stories," Polson said. "They'll lie to me, and I'll lie to them, and we'll have a great day."

Clad in an American flag polo shirt, City Council Chairman Bill Dudley said city residents should think of veterans all the time, not just on holidays.

"Thank a vet," he said. "We owe them a great deal, and we need to continue treating them with the dignity they deserve."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com.

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