Memorial Honors St. Petersburg Veterans
By GRAHAM COLTON, Writer, TB Reporter
A memorial was recently dedicated to honor St. Petersburg’s casualties of all wars since World War I.
ST. PETERSBURG – A new Veterans Memorial honors St. Petersburg’s soldiers who died from war, not just those who perished fighting in war.
The memorial, at Dell Holmes Park, 2741 22nd St. S, is dedicated to fallen St. Petersburg veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. It honors not only those who died in combat, but those who died fighting the after-effects of combat.
“We didn’t have anything like [the St. Petersburg Veterans Memorial],” Charles Claybaker said. “All these young people who pay the sacrifice, and we didn’t have any memorial for it.”
Claybaker, a retired Army Ranger staff sergeant, is the founder and CEO of the Claybaker DUSTOFF Foundation. DUSTOFF stands for “Dedicated, Unhesitating Support to Our Fighting Forces.” Claybaker, who suffered broken bones and a traumatic brain injury in an Osprey crash in Afghanistan, started his foundation as a way of giving back after he and his wife received a home from Building Homes for Heroes.
The St. Petersburg memorial was dedicated recently during a ceremony that featured, among others, Gold Star mothers. They are mothers whose children have been lost to wars.
“I never saw him so excited in my life about something,” Yolanda Mercado said of the time that her son, Army Pfc. Jalfred David Vaquerano, spent training for the military. “Xbox was his favorite thing to do, but not even Xbox was as important to him at that time.”
As many in the crowd fought back tears, another Gold Star mother, Ernestina Nuñez, spoke of the battles that her son, Marine Lcpl. Daniel Nuñez, continued to fight even after the completion of his military service.
“[Military service] is a job,” she said. “And there’s nobody – nobody – that can take the job home, and live with the job, and go to bed with the job.”
She recalled telling her son, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, to try to forget about his time in the military.
“Nobody takes the job on their shoulders day after day, just forget about it,” she said she told her son. “My son never could forget about it until one day he decided that he couldn’t co-exist anymore with everything.”
Cpl. Nuñez ended his own life in 2015.
St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes characterized the soldiers’ deaths as “the perfect sacrifice.”
Army Maj. Gen. Edward F. Dorman, III explained to the civilians in the audience how they, too, could serve their country.
Dorman said, “If each of us will leave here today with the resolve to strengthen our commitment to our nation and the values for which it stands…then I would offer that those who were taken from us prematurely will be able to look down and know that their lives had meaning and made a difference.”
He added, “While you honor us for our service and sacrifice, without your love and unconditional support, we would not be able to do what we do.”
The St. Petersburg Veterans Memorial is the first of three memorials in Pinellas County to be constructed by the Claybaker DUSTOFF Foundation. Plans are underway for the construction of two more memorials elsewhere in the county.
Photos by Graham Colton, Writer, TB Reporter.
Veterans Memorial | Dell Holmes Park | Claybaker DUSTOFF Foundation | Charlie Gerdes | Veterans | Special Interest | Tampabay News
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