Soldiers honored at Camp Blanding

Ceremony pays tribute to sacrifices


Thad Hill receives applause after his speech in front of the National Guard Florida Regiment Memorial wall during the Memorial Day service at Camp Blanding on Monday.

CHRISTINA STUART/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 12:33 a.m.
Memorial Day arrives at the end of a three-day weekend, the recognized gateway to summer.
But for the residents who attended a morning ceremony at Camp Blanding, Monday marked the day set aside to honor and remember those military veterans who never returned home.
About 300 people - many military veterans and their families - attended the 45-minute morning ceremony at the museum and memorial park near Starke. Camp Blanding is the Florida Army National Guard's primary training area.
The ceremony at Camp Blanding is an annual event, but those attending agreed the war in Iraq has added a new dimension to the tradition of honoring those "who have made the ultimate sacrifice."
"This year and last year takes on a special meaning because of Florida Guardsmen killed in the current conflict," said Lt. Col. Thad Hill of Jacksonville, keynote speaker at the event.
Hill served as commander of the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment during nearly 11 months of service in Baghdad last year.
Honored Monday were five Florida National Guardsmen who lost their lives in United States-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan: Cpl. John "Travis" Rivero of Gainesville, Pfc. Brandon Wadman of Cape Coral, Spc. Jeffrey M. Wershow of Gainesville, Spc. Robert Allan Wise of Tallahassee and Roy Alvin Wood of Fort Myers.
Photos of four of the five were hung on the black marble display of the Florida Regimental Memorial during the ceremony, while the Florida, American and POW-MIA flags flew at half-staff.
Also in the fallen soldiers' honor, wreaths were laid in their memory, the Camp Blanding Museum Historical Rifle Squad led a 21-gun salute and taps was played.
James H. Cox of Orange Park, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, said he tries to attend a Memorial Day ceremony every year.
"I left friends in Vietnam," said Cox solemnly, seated next to his wife holding one of the small U.S. flags handed out to each person who attended the ceremony.
Col. Jeffery Hetherington, manager of the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, told the audience that he had "a deep and abiding appreciation" for everyone who has served in the military and the families that soldiers leave behind.
Hetherington said he was "overcome" by viewing Saturday's dedication of the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., to honor what has been called "the greatest generation."
"I'm a student of history . . . but it never hit me until I observed this event," he said.
In the ongoing fighting of today, more than 800 U.S. service members have been killed since fighting began in Iraq in March 2003.
Hill, who had more than 500 soldiers under his command while in Iraq last year, said one link between World War II veterans and those serving abroad today is both groups were willing to risk their lives.
"One bridge (between the generations) is the sacrifice of the families and the soldiers," Hill said.
Douane D. James can be reached at (352) 374-5087 or jamesd@gvillesun.com.

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