Fallen Floridians memorial returns to St. Pete - WFLA News Channel 8

Fallen Floridians memorial returns to St. Pete

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The Fallen Floridians memorial is the length of a city block along St. Petersburg's Gulf Shore Acres Blvd. The Fallen Floridians memorial is the length of a city block along St. Petersburg's Gulf Shore Acres Blvd.
JIm Vanderbleek created the Fallen Floridians memorial JIm Vanderbleek created the Fallen Floridians memorial
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (WFLA) -

In. St. Petersburg on this Independence day, there is a man whose mission is to preserve and honor the memory of those who died in the fight to protect America's freedoms.

Jim Vanderbleek created the Fallen Floridians memorial.

"I appreciate all these guys and girls and what they've done," Vanderbleek said.

It is a memorial with large crosses remembering the dead in each of America's wars. Even more powerful, there are 375 smaller military crosses. On each, the face of a Florida service member who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, the date of death, what honors they achieved and more.

"I've seen all these faces numerous times, I've touched them, I've hugged them, I've prayed over them, and this is my way of saying thanks," Vanderbleek said.

The Fallen Floridians memorial is the length of a city block along St. Petersburg's Shore Acres Blvd.

It also honors service members who took their own lives during the two conflicts, with a single cross that reads, "In Honor of our fellow Brothers whose scars were deeper than those caused by the enemy."

The memorial also recognizes the dogs that died in service to America's G.I.'s.

"Because they saved a lot of lives, but they've lost theirs as well," Vanderbleek said.

Last October, some neighbors grew alarmed when they spotted what appeared to be several military crosses in a dumpster. They alerted News Channel 8 and a story was done about this mysterious discovery.

In a workshop not 50 yards from the dumpster there was Vanderbleek, gathering materials such as new pine wood, new paint, readying for the effort to replace every weathered and mildewed cross.

He started in February. He worked nights and weekends and by May he had 375 new crosses ready for display, ready to honor Florida's war dead.

The memorial drew a steady stream of visitors on this Independence day.

Rhonda Romano, a neighbor, took a walk through the rows of crosses.

"There's not really a way to explain it, it's very emotional," Romano said.

The faces are what makes the memorial so emotional.

"You can look at them and say your own prayer to that person if you wish," Romano said.

A wreath made from grapevine adorns each memorial cross. A note that reads, "Thank you for freedom, from a grateful nation" is attached to each.

The wreaths were the idea of a Boy Scout, who proposed the project as part of his effort to become an Eagle scout.

The scout's name is Connor MacFarlane. He is the son of Army Capt. Bruce MacFarlane of Oviedo, who was killed in Afghanistan, July 6, 2012.

"I looked at his face, he just looks like a nice guy," Vanderbleek said.

The memorial will be at the Warrior Walk in Lakeland July 27th and at the Run for the Fallen at Veterans Memorial Park in Tampa in September.

Vanderbleek asks nothing in return other than some help in setting up and taking down the memorial.

"I would hope that one day I would see these guys and girls in heaven and they say you know, that guy's from St. Petersburg, job well done," Vanderbleek said.

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