Veterans reflect on lessons of serving


Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 5:31 a.m.
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Travis Morrison, 2, holds two American flags as he pays close attention to the Memorial Day service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Monday.

EMILY HARRIS/Special to The Sun
Declining American support for the efforts in Iraq may rest on the shoulders of the U.S. news media, Florida Army National Guard Capt. Frank Pickett said before a crowd of almost 200 veterans and their families gathered Monday in front of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to celebrate Memorial Day.
"The war in Iraq is an American War, it's as righteous a war as World War II was," said the Memorial Day event's keynote speaker. "America did not ask for war, it was attacked. America does not start wars, America finishes them. Whenever America goes to war, we must make sure the lives lost and the injuries suffered have not been in vain."
Pickett, of Newberry, who fought during the initial action in the war in Iraq, said, "The only thing that can make us lose the war in Iraq, the only thing that can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, is the U.S. press."
Too much of the news media's focus was on the minority of things going wrong in Iraq rather than the things the military was doing right, he said. The mistakes of the military were "blown completely out of proportion," and while the military has "blundered plenty," the news media have "blundered much, much more," he said.
During his speech, Pickett also spoke about two fallen soldiers from his unit and what it means to serve.
The speech was part of a 1-hour Memorial Day ceremony held at the VA hospital.
Veterans from five wars and other military actions, some in decorated uniforms, some with purple hearts, some with yellow caps and some in wheelchairs and hospital gowns, sat in front of the flagpole through 90-degree heat waving flags and paying tribute.
"Memorial Day stands as a solemn American tradition honoring the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard men of past generations," Frederick Malphurs, director of the North Florida and South Georgia Veterans Health System, said in his opening remarks.
Also speaking at the event were Mike Byerly, chairman of the Alachua County Commission, and Mary Johnson, district aid to U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns.
Mindy Hall sang the national anthem and joined Heather Davis in performing "God Bless the USA." Buchholz High School Band trumpet players Andrew Kapec, Mandy Moo, Tim Popp and Thomas Rambo closed the ceremony with taps.
Shaun Corley, 15, and Donovan Dupree, 16, of the Milton Lewis Young Marines, performed the flag-folding demonstration.
Dupree said the day had special meaning to him because today, as men and women are fighting, he is donning the same uniform and helping to remember the reason they are there.
"It's nice to know that we're in the same uniform, we're doing our patriotic duty. We're not over there in Iraq, but this works, too," he said.
Korean War Veterans of America officer Douglas Tanner, 76, of Gainesville said it is hard to put into words what it means to celebrate Memorial Day while soldiers are serving overseas in Iraq.
"It gives (veterans and those serving) a feeling of camaraderie and if you believe in spirits, it lets those who have passed on know that they're still thought of and still remembered," he said. "It gives (the men serving in Iraq) support. They know the people back in the states support them, even though there are some who don't."

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