Fran Ruchalski

Illustrating Stories

30

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Fallen Floridians Tribute

I got a call in the afternoon to go out and shoot some photos of "some kind of veterans display" at a local church for a news story for a local paper for the next morning. The address was all I was given so I really had no idea what I would find.  I just knew that I needed to document it in a way that would convey the message that the organizers hoped to show. I grabbed my gear and headed out.

Well, I pulled up on this and I wasn't ready for what I found.  The Fallen Floridians Tribute was a memorial to all the servicemen and women from the State of Florida that had been killed in battle in the Middle East since 9/11.  There were several rows of white crosses displayed on the church property on the side of a very busy road.  There were almost four hundred of them.  But what really hit home for me and the other folks who had gathered there was that each cross had the name, rank, and service branch of the fallen hero, the date that they died, their age at the time of their death.....and a PHOTOGRAPH of each one.  It was the photograph of each one that made the whole thing very real to all of us.  It was what made the difference. These were not nameless crosses; they were real people who had made the ultimate sacrifice.  It was very moving to see this.  I ended up visiting just about every one.

But, as I chatted with the people there, I found out that there was something more.  Each night around dusk,a gentleman came to the memorial and blew "Taps" on his trumpet.  I had gotten more than enough for the paper, but I waited around for the sun to go down to see this.  And just before sunset, this man pulls up, takes his horn out of the trunk of his car, exchanges a few pleasantries with some of the folks that had gathered, takes his place in the corner of the tribute area and proceeded to play.  The sound floated over the area quite eerily.  At the end, he quietly packed up his instrument and drove away. One of the organizers told me that he had done that each night of the two weeks that the Tribute had been there.  They never asked him to do it; he just did.  It was his way to honor those that had fallen.

It was a fitting end to an awe-inspiring afternoon.  I was so glad that I had stayed around to get the shot.  It allowed me to tell a more complete story. And it was an experience that I won't soon forget.

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