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Pinellas County

Veterans gather at Bay Pines National Cemetery for Memorial Day remembrance

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) -- Bay Pines National Cemetery was the focal point of the Tampa Bay area's largest Memorial Day observance on Monday.

Hundreds of combat veterans and their families who have lost loved ones in service to our nation turned out for the event. This year's attendance included two WWII vets.

One of them, 92-year-old Forrest M. Hodge, is a survivor of a shrapnel wound to the head during the invasion of Iwo Jima.

The cemetery was dotted with thousands of red, white and blue flags planted by Boy Scouts, while in the foreground the crowd listened to speeches of remembrance and gratitude by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Congressman Charlie Crist and a keynote address by U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater Commander Capt. Edward Sandlin.

In the audience next to his daughter sat retired Korean Conflict veteran Charlie Douglas, age 87.

"It's an obligation," said Douglas. "I feel that I owe it to my country."

Douglas served as a first lieutenant and platoon leader in Korea where he earned a Bronze Star and fought in some of that conflict's bloodiest battles--including the infamous dying ground that soldiers called Pork Chop Hill.

The heat was soaring Monday as Douglas gingerly walked to his seat guided and supported by his daughter and future son-in-law. Douglas told us couldn't imagine being anywhere else on Memorial Day.

"I feel like I should give back to my country as much as I can by showing up at these affairs," Douglas said.

His daughter Sarah Douglas says this is one of the most important things they do together as a family. "He's our hero," Douglas said. Maybe so, but her father insists that patriotic tributes to other heroes--his fallen friends among them-- should not be limited to one or two days a year.

"Somebody said that Veterans Day, Memorial Day is every day. It's not just two days a year it's every day and I think if we remember that we'll keep in focus what all of us went through," Douglas said.

As for his own combat experience in Korea — by his description, a "no-win war" — Douglas sadly recalls the soldiers he lead into harm's way who didn't make it home.

"I try not to, but yes I do especially on occasions like this," Douglas said. "It's tough."

Follow Mark Douglas on Facebook
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