Memorial Day ceremony honors Gold Star families

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Gold Star family members were among the dozens to attend the 2019 Hillsborough County Memorial Day Remembrance Ceremony Sunday morning. 

Crowds braved the heat to spend the morning hours at Veterans Memorial Park in Riverview honoring the fallen. 

For some, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer, but for others it's a somber reminder of who they've lost.

Jay Allen walked from the ceremony bleachers to the Vietnam Memorial, where his brother's name is etched in the stone. 

"He joined the Army and went to Vietnam," Allen remembered. "He was there for 66 days before he was killed by a mortar."

Allen says, for him and his fellow veterans, Memorial Day is anything but happy.

"Don't wish us veterans a happy Memorial Day. It's for remembrance," he said. "Veterans' Day. Celebrate it, and thank us then."

"Freedom isn't free" was a theme that wove together each speech during the ceremony program, and a point that organizers wanted to highlight. 

"It's not always about hot dogs and cookouts," said event coordinator Michael Kirk. "It's the true meaning of freedom and the price it takes to keep this country free."

Hillsborough County is home to more than 97,000 veterans, more than any other county in Florida.