A Thank You To All Who Served Including My Dad

I’m thankful this Memorial Day for many people including my younger sister, Pat O’Brien Turner, who today visited our father’s grave at the U.S. National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

Navy WWII veteran Robert Joseph O’Brien spent D-Day off-loading troops on the shores of France. He was part of a naval landing-craft crew that made numerous trips back and forth to the coastline for the first two days of the invasion.

My father talked to me about his service just once. And that’s only because I was with my husband, also a WWII Navy veteran.

Like many of his generation, he didn’t like to recall the war. I think in part, it’s because he was assigned burial duty after the beach was secured. It was a heart-wrenching assignment that I know he carried out with the same care and dignity he would afford his own loved ones.

Today, I think of my father and all the families of those killed on the beach that day, those who died in WWII and all who have fallen while serving their country.


Memorial Day 2019 at the U.S. National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.


‘A Little Pink’ Always Colors My Memorial Day


The American Flag flies above the US American Victory Museum & Memorial Ship, Tampa, FL.

Through almost 40 years of reporting – there are stories and people that never leave you.

A Little Pink In A World Of Camo, a military wife’s blog, is where I discovered such a heart-captivating story titled: I Will Always Be A Marine Wife.

I just need to share some sad news with all of my blog friends.

Sad isn’t even the word to describe it, but honestly at this point I can’t find the words to describe it. Angry, empty, crushed, confused, shocked, alone, unglued, hateful, depressed, beaten down… none of these words can do justice to my feelings.

I am being forced to do something that no 23 year old woman should ever have to do. I am being forced to do something that no one should ever have to do, not at this early in life, especially. I am being forced to lay the love of my life, my saving grace, my entire world to rest. …

– Rachel Porto –

And after reporting on their family’s loss, Ariana Porto, her mother Rachel Porto and grandmothers Evelyn Jewell and Rachel Bernaby (Porto’s mother) forever became a part of my Memorial Day remembrances.

I never met him and Corporal Jonathan Porto never held his daughter Ariana.

The closest he got was kneeling down and talking to her through Rachel’s pregnant belly on the day he deployed. An iconic photo of that moment was snapped by another Marine wife. Rachel was unaware at the time, but she ended up featuring the picture at the top of her blog: A Little Pink in a World of Camo.

Porto was one of 10 men killed in his battalion, the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune, while deployed to Afghanistan. He died in March 2010 just shy of his first wedding anniversary.

What will always stay with me is that photo of Jonathan talking to his unborn daughter and the power of Rachel and Jonathan’s relationship. Jonathan made Rachel promise “no moping” while he was gone. And as difficult as the hours, days, months and years may have been since his death, Rachel continues to keep her promise to Jonathan. And she’s continued to write earning a masters’ degree in writing.

Please on this Memorial Day, keep the promise made by President Lincoln, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” So, take a moment to remember those who have fallen in service to our country.

My eternal appreciation to all who have allowed me to tell their stories.


2017 Memorial Day Tampa Bay Observances

The Special Forces Memorial at U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

There are a variety of ways to honor the fallen this Memorial Day, several are listed below. Originally, it was called Decoration Day, named after the practice of families and citizens who “decorated” the Civil War graves of fallen troops with wreaths and flowers.

The day dedicated to remembrance was expanded to include American soldiers who died while serving in World War I and then all American conflicts. Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 and now recognizes the sacrifice of all who have lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In 2000 Congress passed additional legislation calling on all Americans to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.

To pay tribute to the men and women who served and sacrificed for the country, you can locate a VA National Cemetery nearest you that is holding a 2017 Memorial Day Ceremony HERE.

Events in the Tampa Bay region are listed below:

Monday – May 29, 2017

Carry the Load March and Rally – 8 am -2 pm – Ferg’s, 490 Channelside Drive, Tampa. The idea is to have citizens, scouts and ROTC members participate by carrying a rucksack, memento or photo to honor service members and their families for the sacrifices they make. Registration is followed by a brief ceremony, Taps and moment of silence at 8:40. The 5K walk moves down Bayshore Boulevard for 2.5 miles, does an about face, and returns to Ferg’s for a live band and Memorial Rally.

14th Annual Fallen Veterans Ride to Bushnell – 9 a.m. – Start location at the I-75 North, Interstate Rest Area, 1.5 miles north of I-275. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Defenders Law Enforcement MC is organizing the ride. Kickstands up at 9:30 a.m. to the Memorial Service at Bushnell’s Florida National Cemetery at 11 a.m.

Bradenton Memorial Day Ceremony – 9 a.m. – at Veterans’ Monument Park, directly behind the Manatee Memorial Hospital near U.S. 41 and the Bradenton Riverwalk. The guest speaker scheduled is Retired Rear Admiral Richard Buchanan, sponsored by the Manatee County Veterans’ Council.

Bay Pines National Cemetery – 10 a.m. The Bay Pines VA in Pinellas County will commemorate Memorial Day with a ceremony at the Front Committal at the Bay Pines National Cemetery, 10,000 Bay Pines Blvd. North, St. Petersburg. Keynote speaker scheduled is U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Edward W. Sandlin, Commander, Air Station Clearwater, and  U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, and local VA leaders. The ceremony will also feature musical performances by the Suncoast Symphony Orchestra and Vietnam Veterans who attend may receive a commemorative lapel of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

Sarasota Memorial Day Parade – 10 a.m. – The parade, in downtown Sarasota, starts at Main Street and Osprey Avenue and concludes at J.D. Hamel Park, at Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue. “Celebrate, Honor, Remember,” is the ceremony that will pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. Sarasota Military Academy students will lead the parade carrying an American flag flown at the Battle of Midway, followed by the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard. Keynote speaker is James D’Angelo. who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era and founded the Midway Memorial Foundation in 1992.

MathAlive and Military Family Day – 9:45 a.m. – A grand opening ceremony at the Glazer Children’s Museum, 110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa.  Free admission for active-duty military and veterans and their families for Memorial Day. Events will feature  Florida Military Youth of the Year, Gregory Davis, a robotics team demonstration, math and art exhibits and challenges.

Venice Annual Memorial Day Ceremony – 10 a.m. – Patriots Park, U.S. 41,  just north of the intersection of U.S. 41 Bypass North and U.S. 41 Business. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8118 is sponsoring the ceremony which is open to the public. The American Legion NO-VEL Post 159 host and open house immediately after the ceremony at their Post Home, 1770 E. Venice Ave., Venice.

Florida National Cemetery11 a.m. – An ceremony honoring those who have fallen is planned at the Florida National Cemetery Veterans’ Memorial assembly area, 6502 SW 102nd Avenue (Sumter County), Bushnell. For details, call (352) 793-7740 or 1074.

Avon Park Memorial Day Program – 1 p.m. – American Legion Post 69, 1301 W. Bell St., Avon Park, has planned a special program to honor the troops and service animals that have given the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. Contact the Post Service Officer for more information at 850-718-7773.

Annual Memorial Day Concert – 2-4 p.m. – Bring your lawn chairs and coolers for the concert featuring the Sarasota Concert Band at Philippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Adults $5, 12 and under are free. For details call: 941-364-2263.

Memorial Day Sunset Ceremony – 7 p.m. – Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Dr., Largo. The City of Largo is inviting the public to gather at sunset to honor those who have served and died for the country. A color guard, wreath laying and music will round out the ceremony.

Elsewhere in Florida

Barrancas National Cemetery – 9 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony is set at Shelter A, Barrancas National Cemetery at the Naval Air Station, 80 Hovey Road, Pensacola, FL. Call for details: (850) 453-4108 or 453-4846.

St. Augustine National Cemetery,  – 10 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony is scheduled at the Flag pole, St. Augustine National Cemetery, 104 Marine Street, St. Augustine, FL. For information contact: Florida National Cemetery at (904) 766-5222.

South Florida National Cemetery – 10 a.m. – A Memorial Day Ceremony, open to the public, is planned at the Flag pole and Section 39, at the South Florida National Cemetery, 6501 South State Road 7, Lake Worth. For details, call (561) 649-6489.


Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery11 a.m. – The U.S. Army Military District of Washington will conduct a Presidential Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath-Laying Ceremony at 11 a.m., at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to be followed by an observance program hosted by the Department of Defense in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. A musical prelude by the United States Air Force Band will begin in the amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. All ceremonies are free and open to the public.

National Memorial Day Parade2 p.m. –  The annual parade is held to commemorate the fallen troops from the Revolutionary War through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The parade traditionally marches along Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C. Grand Marshals include Ken Burns, documentary film maker; Retired Gen. Richard Myers, 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a tribute to World War II generation.

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A Memorial Day For Military, Veterans Killed By Suicide

Ellsworth Tony Williams veterans counseling veterans

Ellsworth “Tony” Williams, founder and CEO of Veterans Counseling Veterans.

The nation will remember those killed while serving their country on Memorial Day in just over a week. But a local group called Veterans Counseling Veterans wants people to think about another kind of Memorial Day – one honoring those who served in uniform and died by suicide — and is planning such as service this Sunday in Tampa at American Legion Post 5.

The Veterans Counseling Veterans memorial service is an example of the many different efforts to eliminate the stigma of suicide and improve veteran suicide prevention from Congress to local counselors.

One of the challenges some advocates say they face is a number: 22. A 2012 VA report estimated 22 vets a day die by suicide, and it’s often quoted in media reports. But that data is questionable because it didn’t include all 50 states. And it’s mistakenly associated with only Post 9-11 veterans. Continue reading

VA Secretary Shinseki Memorial Day Message

VA Sec. Eric Shinseki Photo credit: va.gov

VA Sec. Eric Shinseki Photo credit: va.gov

The following is a message written by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and posted on the VA blog,  VAntage Point.

For anyone who has witnessed the media coverage and congressional scrutiny that Shinseki has endured in recent weeks, this message may provide you insight into the true soldier and his sole mission to care for men, women and families who serve in the U.S. military.

If you do nothing else to commemorate Memorial Day, read the words of this decorated Vietnam veteran.

By Eric K. Shinseki

Memorial Day is our most solemn national holiday. It is a unique time for both celebration and poignant remembrances. We celebrate our freedom and way of life through backyard barbeques, ballgames, and beach outings. But, we also pause to remember our fallen in ceremonies mourning the loss of those who gave their lives so that we might live ours in peace and freedom.

At its core, the eloquence of Memorial Day speaks of personal sacrifice for a greater, common good. It resonates in the stories of ordinary Americans, who fought and died, drawing on extraordinary inner strength and determination to preserve our nation. They did so out of an abiding sense of duty and immense personal courage.

??????????I have a friend named Ruth Stonesifer. Ruth is one of the many Gold Star Mothers who have given their children in service to our nation. They and their families are all wonderful examples of strength, courage, and generosity.

Ruth and I first met by telephone in late October 2001, when I was then serving as the Army Chief of Staff. Her son Kris had just been killed in Afghanistan, one of two Army Rangers—our first casualties in a war that is still being fought today by our magnificent men and women in uniform. It was a phone call no parent ever wants to receive, and that I did not ever wish to make.

At a time of deepest grief, when my call was an intrusion into their anguish, mothers and fathers like Ruth Stonesifer shared their hearts with me. They helped me through my own sorrow. And they made me even more proud of their children. Often, I was the one who was consoled during those phone calls.


Ruth Stonesifer. Photo courtesy of Gold Star Moms.com

I do not know what would have happened if that first phone call to Ruth had not gone well. But she was so strong, so generous, and so comforting that I went on to reach out to as many families of the fallen as I could during my tenure as chief—to try to express the inexpressible; to try to assuage the unbearable; and to say “Thank You” on behalf of a grateful nation, when no measure of gratitude could ever fill the void left by the loss of a child.

Memorial Day is a time for remembrance, reflection, and respect—for honoring the men and women who gave their lives serving the United States of America. We pay homage to their willingness to sacrifice themselves for love of country.

Let us never forget Ruth and Kris Stonesifer—or the countless others who have given so much in service to our nation. Let us strive to honor the memory of the fallen by living out, in our everyday lives, the principles, ideals, and values for which these Americans—forever young, forever brave, forever loved—gave their lives.

Memorial Day: Remembering Military Working Dogs

Military Working Dog Bak as a "sniper"

Military Working Dog Bak as a “sniper”

Blogger Kevin Hanrahan‘s tribute to those “battle buddies” who are killed in action  but go unrecognized – Military Working Dogs.

Last week I brought you the heart wrenching story of Military Working Dog Bak’s Memorial Service at Fort Stewart Georgia. MWD Bak was killed this past March in Afghanistan.

As a tribute to MWD Bak on Memorial Day, here is his story.

There was nothing better than seeing those Afghan mountain peaks slowly turning from brown to white. It seemed that, as the snow melted away, US Army Sergeant Marel Molina and his Military Working Dog Bak’s time remaining in Afghanistan withered away day by day.

But Sergeant Molina couldn’t think about going home today, even though he was a short two months away. He had work to do.

No, that wasn’t right.  He and MWD Bak had work to do.

Keeping his Green Beret team alive was hard work.

What Molina could not prevent was an attack by an Afghan local policeman who turned his AK-47 on the Americans .. he was sounded in the neck and his MWD Bak was shot…

Molina and Bak - battle buddies.

Molina and Bak – battle buddies.

Sergeant Marel Molina received lifesaving surgery at Bagram Airbase Afghanistan, was evavced to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC. He has moved from crutches, to a cane, to walking on his own. He has high hopes for being completely off aids soon and is very close to a full recovery.

Physically he will heal, but mentally he will never be the same. He will never forget his battle buddy Military Working Dog Bak and the images of him lying on that chopper, bleeding out, and Molina powerless to help him.

Bak wasn’t a piece of equipment, and he wasn’t just a dog, Military Working Dog Bak was a fellow soldier, who died fighting for this country.

Sergeant Molina and many other soldiers are alive today because of their fellow soldier, Military Working Dog Bak.

As a country we celebrate Memorial Day to remember the men and women who fought and died for this country. But for those that fought beside them, we also think of our four-legged soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Please remember Military Working Dog Bak and the others like him who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

You can read the full account on Kevin Hanrahan’s blog.

Also killed in this incident was:

CPT Andrew M. Pedersen-Keel, 28, of South Miami, Fla.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.

SSG Rex L. Schad, 26, of Edmond, Okla.  He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga

Son of a Soldier Pays Tribute: The Path of the Warrior

Christopher Buck courtesy Humanity Healing Intl

Christopher Buck courtesy Humanity Healing Intl

Christopher Buck, CEO Humanity Healing International

I grew up in a military family. My father and grandfathers served. Every couple of years we would move to a new base and start the process of finding new friends and sometimes finding old ones from earlier postings.

I was 8 years old when my father went to serve in Vietnam. I was too young to understand the politics at the time, but I remember being angry at people I saw on television saying that soldiers in Vietnam were bad people. MY Dad wasn’t. I remember being afraid when I saw the green military sedan driving past and we would stop playing and watch to see if it was going to someones house the green sedan stopping meant somebody’s father was dead or hurt. I remember not knowing what to say to a friend that had lost his father and feeling guilty because I was so happy it wasn’t my Dad.

I have long wanted to do something to honor, not only my father and all those that have served their country in the military, but also the families that stay behind and wait. This video, The Path of the Warrior, is a small token of my respect and gratitude. I hope you will forward this letter, or at least the video link, to all those you know who either serve in the armed forces or wait behind.

What will I do this Memorial Day? I have not been to a parade since my children were little. In truth, I will probably be working on one of Humanity Healing’s projects and it is a good excuse for a barbecue; but at some point during the day, I will send a prayer of protection to those currently serving and their families, I will say a Blessing to those who did not return and a pray of comfort to their families, and I know that the fears of my eight year-old self will well up from the part of my soul they are hidden and I will say a prayer of gratitude that my Dad was one of those who did return.

A Heartfelt Thank You to All the Volunteers

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

I don’t personally know who might have placed a flag on my father-in-law’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

He and my mother-in-law are buried in the columbarium wall. So, I’m unsure if they even have an individual flag at the stone carved with their names.

What I am sure of is that even though I am unable to visit today they will be honored by all those who attend ceremonies and visit Arlington.

I am sure of the same for my father buried at the Dayton National Cemetery. He is buried on a small hill next to a young tree that surly has grown deep roots since his service.

Today, I want to thank the VA volunteers, the Boy Scouts, the various veterans organizations, all those who honor the more than three million military members buried in graves at national cemeteries.

You honor our family members who served and by doing so you honor your nation and me. For that, I am sincerely grateful.


Memorial Day Events: Many Ways to Remember

flags-multiple-in-groundMemorial Day is an opportunity to remember all  those who died while serving the United States of America in all wars.

National Cemetery Ceremonies

An easy reference for all Memorial Day ceremonies at National Cemeteries throughout the United States is available HERE. This listing is in alphabetic order by state. Note that there is not a VA national cemetery in every state.

National Moment of Silence

On Memorial Day at 3 p.m., local time around the nation, Americans will pause for the annual Moment of Remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of America’s fallen warriors and the freedoms that unite Americans. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains approximately three million gravesites at its 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

On Memorial Day at 3 p.m., local time around the nation, Americans will pause for the annual Moment of Remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of America’s fallen warriors and the freedoms that unite Americans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains approximately three million gravesites at its 131 national cemeteries and has the potential to provide six million graves on more than 19,000 acres in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

To learn more about the history of Memorial Day, visit VA’s Memorial Day page.

– See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/May/Memorial-Day-When-America-Remembers.asp#sthash.tyM8C7bQ.dpuf

On Memorial Day at 3 p.m., local time around the nation, Americans will pause for the annual Moment of Remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of America’s fallen warriors and the freedoms that unite Americans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains approximately three million gravesites at its 131 national cemeteries and has the potential to provide six million graves on more than 19,000 acres in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

To learn more about the history of Memorial Day, visit VA’s Memorial Day page.

– See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/May/Memorial-Day-When-America-Remembers.asp#sthash.tyM8C7bQ.dpuf

An Online Memorial

If you do not have time this weekend to visit a national cemetery or personally thank a military veteran for his or her sacrifice after more than 10 years of war, take just a few minutes and look into their faces. The 100 faces in 100 hours is a project of CNN.com and features photos and bios of 100 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Washington D.C. Ceremonies

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY – Monday, May 27  at 11 a.m. a Presidential Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath-Laying Ceremony is set at the Tomb of the Unknowns, to be followed by an observance program hosted by the Department of Defense in Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater. A prelude by the U.S. Air Force Band will begin in the amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. Attendees are encouraged to be at the Tomb of the Unknowns or seated in the amphitheater by 9:30 a.m.

NATIONAL PARADE – Monday, May 27, beginning at 2 p.m.
The parade of Marching Bands and Veterans units from all 50 states steps off at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 7th Streets, NW and proceeds along Constitution Avenue, past the White House, ending at 17th Street. The National Memorial Day Parade is sponsored by the World War II Veterans Committee and includes patriotic floats and helium-filled balloons.

WOMEN IN SERVICE MEMORIAL – Monday, May 27, at 4 p.m. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial, located at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery, will hold a ceremony that includes formal military honors, a keynote address, wreath-layings and the Memorial’s signature event, the scattering of rose petals in tribute to departed comrades. Members of the public are invited to join in the personal tribute segment of the program.

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Hospitalized Vets BBQ Canceled as Sponsor Drops Out


AN UPDATE AS OF THURSDAY EVENING: Members of the Tampa law firm of Foley & Lardner have agreed to cover the cost of the barbecue. Attorney Chris Griffin contacted WUSF shortly after learning of the story to say members of the firm were willing to help so that the hospitalized veterans could enjoy a holiday barbecue.

Memorial Day is a time to remember military members who lost their lives while serving their country.

It’s also a three-day weekend at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital that staff try to make special for the hospitalized veterans who also sacrificed for their country.

Yet, Memorial Day for Haley veterans had to be scaled back this year.

For want of $500, the 150 veterans at the Haley VA Hospital will not have a Memorial Day barbecue according to Cathy Williams, head of recreational therapy.

“We actually, normally do a barbecue on Monday,” Williams said. “We would have like, Lupton’s BBQ, and we lost our sponsorship. So there was nobody that stepped forward this year to fund that. So, we had to down scale a little bit. But that’s okay.”

So without a sponsor this Saturday, it’s karaoke, a cookout for the balloon volleyball team and baseball for the 55 veterans who can travel to the Rays-Yankees game.

On Monday, the highlight will be a visit by the Buccaneer cheerleaders and a bingo game.

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