6,401 American Flags in the Field of Honor at Veterans Memorial Park – Tampa, FL

An unspoken understanding at Saturday morning’s quarterly ceremony honoring fallen soldiers. 

On Saturday April 15, 2012, family members and friends met in the Field of Honor at Veterans Memorial Park to honor soldiers that have died in Afghanistan.  Amongst the attendees was Yolanda Mercado, mother of Army Private 1st Class Jalfred Vaquenrano, who was killed while serving his country on December 13.  Mercado was one of six Gold Star parents, those who have lost their children to war, at the quarterly ceremony.  She was wearing a t-shirt with a picture her 20 year old son she lost to the war in Afghanistan.  As she leaned over and added another flag to the field she wept.  A few minutes later she told reporters that, “For the first time, I feel like I am with people who understand.”  For the majority of Gold Star parents participating, the ceremony in honor of their children helps them cope with their loss.

Chip Shields, a Hillsborough County firefighter and Honor Guard member, said the quarterly memorial service is designed to “let the loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice know they are not alone.”  Shields, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant, knows all too well about sacrifice.  On October 23, 1983, he was in the Beirut Barrack when a suicide bomber drove a truck bomb into the compound, blowing up the building and killing 241 Marines.  Shields was buried under rubble from the explosion and was latter rescued after a friend heard his calls for help.

Chip Shields, a survivor of a 1983 terrorist attack in Lebanon.

Walt Raysik, a member of the Veteran Council, held a small stack of magnetic numbers after the ceremony. “This is the worst part of the job,” he said as he changed the numbers of those who have died in Afghanistan, from 1,915 from two weeks prior, to 1,933.


Credit: The Tampa Tribune


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