ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - Throughout Memorial Day, visitors traveled in and out of Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, paying their respects. Some were there to see family members. Others just wanted to say thank you for their gift of freedom. And, for those who've served, it was a time to reflect.
There's no cookout, no parade, no party. There was silent reflection of freedom - what it means and what it costs.
"What I see, honestly, I see platoons," said U.S. Navy Veteran John Davis. "I see guys in uniform, ladies and gentlemen sporting their finest dress blues, their inspection uniforms, shined boots, medals."
Here, on Memorial Day, emotions are raw and the stories are personal. You can hear whispers and sobs echo throughout the grounds.
"This is what freedom is. This is what it costs. This is what it's cost so far," Davis said.
Davis had his mind on an entire aircraft crew, lost in an instant, amid rough, 20-foot seas.
"I looked up to those guys," Davis said. "They were running out of fuel. The seas were so big that the aircraft hit, rotated, rotated. You volunteer your life you just don't realize it's going to end that way."
Two women came to visit Lt. Col. Thomas Hafner, a husband and father. His gravestone reads, "The Eternal Optimist." He died in October at age 81. Their hearts are still too heavy to talk about him.
"What they gave, so many people didn't," said Jonathan Provencher. "Keep their memory alive and never forget them. Because, to me, that's disgraceful. You don't want to dishonor them by not remembering them."
"It's very emotional to come here," he said. "But, it's beautiful to see all these flags."
Each one of the thousands of flags blowing in the breeze represents a hero.
Looking out, Davis said, "I see each one of these individuals ready and willing, obviously, to perform what they were... what their country required of them."