SUN CITY CENTER – While many now celebrate Memorial Day as part of a three-day weekend that kicks off summer, residents of Sun City Center take the holiday more seriously.
Each year the community’s combined military veterans organizations – led by members of the Military Officers Association of America – sponsor a ceremony of remembrance for all military service members who died in service to the country. In Sun City Center, the event also includes recognition of those in the community who served in the military earlier in their lives and died during the past year.
“Our ceremony focuses on the deaths of veterans in our age group,” said retired Army Col. Paul Wheat. “This year we’re honoring 229 veterans who died since last Memorial Day. As always, we’ll include our traditional living flag tribute, when the names of every individual who died last year are called out.”
During this Last Roll Call an American flag for each person named is brought into Kings Point’s Borini Theater, where the event is held. Flags are also carried for POWs, disabled veterans and all other veterans who died last year.
The traditional Memorial Day Ceremony, which is open to the public, will start at 10 a.m. Monday at the Kings Point Clubhouse, 1900 Clubhouse Drive. The doors will open at 9 for general attendance seating. The event is expected to draw a crowd of about 700.
The guest speaker will be Command Sgt. Maj. Frank A. Grippe, the Command Senior Enlisted Leader for the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa. Grippe entered the Army in 1981 at Syracuse, N.Y., trained as a light infantryman and graduated from the Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga. He subsequently attended all levels of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System, culminating at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. His last assignment was command sergeant major of the Task Force Band of Brothers Multi-National Division in Afghanistan. Grippe has received numerous awards including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
This year’s grand marshal is Staff Sgt. Robert E. Carroll, who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, will lead the procession, and Navy Reserve Lt. Thomas Brown will emcee.
A musical interlude and tribute to the military services directed by the Rev. James Feist, will be provided by the Trinity Baptist Church Choir. Feist will also play taps. Colors will be presented by the East Bay High School Jr. ROTC and members of Ruskin Boy Scout Troop 661 will place the wreath at the flagpole outside.
Sun City Center Military organizations participating in the ceremony include the American Legion; Military Order of the World Wars; Navy Seabees Island 16; Silver Osprey Squadron No. 64 chapter of the Association of Naval Aviation; Disabled American Veterans; and the Leathernecks.
For further information, call (813) 634-7777.
Retired Lt. Col. Paul Wheat contributed to this story.