An older woman driving a mini-van came to a stop on Bay Pines Blvd before realizing the flashing police lights were to block traffic from entering through War Veterans’ Memorial Park’s northern entrance. The two-way street leading in and out of the park had been turned into a one-way exit. It was Memorial Day and the park was hosting a Battlefield Cross Memorial Dedication – a ceremony for the 18 Pinellas County military service members who died during the Gulf War Era.
Narrow, paved paths with small signs advertising the dedication ceremony cut through an almost untapped Florida woods and into a gap, deep in the park, where a stage and chairs were set up.
Families of the fallen sat under a shaded pavilion and faced a podium where people like Representative David Jolly and Major General Garrett Harencak, the Deputy Commander of US Central Command, spoke into a microphone. A motorcycle group called the Patriot Guard Riders, some in sleeveless jackets with veteran’s patches on them, held US flags on either side of walkway that led up to the ceremony. Those standing and sitting in and out of areas shaded by tall live oaks fanned themselves with flyers, hats and whatever else was available as they listened and watched from the outside, on the grass. News crews, camera men and photographers captured the words of the speakers, the emotions of the crowd. A sundial stood in the center of the pavilion with the heavy and constant sun shining down on it.
The woman in the van had helped a lady older than herself out of the passenger’s side and into a mobility scooter. They were both resting in the shade and holding small American flags. From where they were, you could just make out the bronze battlefield cross that’d been put up that day. It didn’t shine, but the detail of the helmet, boots and rifle were clear. Just across the way was a separate pavilion area where families were grilling and their kids playing.