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  1. Florida Politics

Florida Veterans Hall of Fame ceremony draws Confederate protest

TALLAHASSEE — A decision to omit three Confederate soldiers from the state's fledgling Veterans Hall of Fame likely never looked better than it did Monday to state officials.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott mostly avoided having to discuss the state's Civil War past during a ceremony honoring five veterans, thanks in large part to a decision in March by him and the Cabinet to leave off the names of three who fought for the Confederate States of America.

But that didn't sit well with David McCallister, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans from Wesley Chapel who led a one-man protest before Scott arrived. Waving a small Confederate flag and wearing a tie with the same design, McCallister stood at the front of the ceremony with about 200 people declaring Florida needed to recognize Confederate soldiers along with U.S. military veterans.

"All of Florida's veterans need to be respected," McCallister said before being escorted out of the room by Capitol police. McCallister was later allowed to go back into the event and watched the proceedings without further incident.

Asked afterward about the outburst, Scott said he didn't see or hear any of it.

The state's seven-member Veterans Hall of Fame Council nominated eight people to be part of Monday's ceremony, including Confederate soldiers Edward Perry; David Lang, Florida's first adjutant general; and Samuel Pasco, a Harvard-educated prisoner of war and U.S. senator for whom Pasco County is named.

But earlier this year, all three were ruled ineligible by Department of Veterans Affairs executive director Mike Prendergast, who said the state could honor only veterans who served in the "United States military." Scott and the Cabinet followed in March by refusing to add any of the Confederate soldiers to the list despite pleas from Confederate heritage groups. And that was long before Confederate backlash after the deadly shootings in South Carolina last month.

The Hall of Fame inductees Monday were the late LeRoy Collins Jr. of Tampa, a rear admiral in the U.S. Naval Reserve and son of former Gov. LeRoy Collins; retired Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden, the highest-ranking survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II; retired Army Maj. Gen. James Dozier; retired Army Col. Frank Farmer, a former state surgeon general; and Chief Master Sgt. Eugene Cecil Johnson, the first African-American and first enlisted member of the Hall of Fame.

"I'm very proud that this is a state that cares about our veterans," Scott said at the afternoon ceremony, in which the veterans' names were added to a ceremonial bronze plaque in the entrance of the state Capitol that now has 11 names on it.

McCallister said state officials can expect to see him and other members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans at future induction ceremonies. He said every year, they are going to attend to make sure the state does not forget the people who fought for Florida.

"These are the men, for good or bad, who rebuilt Florida after the war," McCallister said. "To exclude them is really a crime against history."

For the next inductee class, McCallister said he has already submitted the names of two Confederate war veterans.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.

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