Color guards from around Manatee County, including those provided by local veterans posts and Junior ROTC cadets from every high school in the county, gathered on Memorial Day at Veterans Monument Park to honor those who gave their lives in service to the nation.
The observance on the river bank north of Manatee Memorial Hospital on Monday morning included poetry, patriotic songs, a new Blue Star Memorial highway marker and a rifle salute that pierced the air above the heads of those who had assembled.
Keynote speaker Herb Tschappat, a Vietnam veteran, acknowledged the families of all those who died in service to their country. He is a former teacher, coach and high school principal who recently retired as assistant superintendent of Manatee Schools.
He described a high school classmate who did not return home during the Vietnam War. He recalled the shock of family members and neighbors, and their reaction after learning of his bravery in rescuing others while giving his own life.
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Addressing the family members of soldiers who gave their lives in service to the country,Tschappat said: “Their sacrifice is never forgotten. We owe them a debt of honor. Thank you for being here and thank you for your patriotism.”
During the ceremony, a flag-draped casket representing all veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice was carried up the aisle between the white granite benches to the flag staff where a flag rippled in the morning breeze, so large it could be seen across the river.
A poem read by Fred Graves described the memories of those who lost loved ones. It ended with the words: “So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us.”
The crowd was silent during the reading of the names of soldiers with ties to Manatee County who died during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many young people attended the ceremony. Trina Riozzo, 15, and her sister Holly, 12, sang “God Bless America” in two-part harmony.
“I think the crowd is larger this time,” said Hyuenwoong Cho, a member of the Junior ROTC who attended last year. A student at Braden River High School, his family’s military history includes a grandfather who was conscripted into the army in South Korea.
“I joined because I thought it would teach me good discipline and give me some leadership skills. It changed my life and my attitude,” he said.
His friend, Thomas Kopec, agreed: “It gives you more confidence. I learned to speak to a large crowd, something I’d never done before.” Kopec’s family includes firefighters, police officers and veterans of World War I and World War II.