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Gold Star families come together for Memorial Day at MacDill Park

May 31 2021
Katya Guillaume | Bay News 9

TAMPA, Fla. — MacDill Park welcomed Gold Star families on this Memorial Day to pay honor to their loved ones who fought and died in war.

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Matthew Bowman, 10, is remembering his papa’s brother.

“It’s sad because my papa, I call him papa, he’s my grandfather, his brother died in war, Vietnam, 52 years ago in 1969,” Bowman said.

Jessica Vaquerano and Yolanda Mercado were there to remember their loved one Jalfred Vaquerano, who died while deployed in Afghanistan.

“I just wish everyone knew him,” Vaquerano said. “He was an awesome kid. He was 21 when he was shot.”

Jean Aertker came to the park Monday for her husband, Capt. Alan Aertker, who also died in 1977.

“The yellow rose is special because he was a Texas boy,” she said.

Everyone’s military story is different, but they hear the sound of these gun salutes and watch the men in uniform playing the bugle, they all have the same feeling.

“Quite emotional,” Aertker said. "You remember all the flash backs of all the great years we’ve had with the military and also the sadness that came.”.

While holding back tears and not feeling sad is hard on a day like today, we still come together to honor the brave men and women like it’s been done since the first commemoration in 1865.

“Today, Memorial Day, is especially important to have a place like this where we can gather perhaps reflect and express our enduring gratitude to those generation of Americans who gave their lives defending our people and our way of life," said U.S. Central Command Deputy Commander, Vice Adm. James Malloy.

Vaquerano finished by saying, “Memorial Day is every day for us because we don’t have them, they died so we have our dreams, we can pursue the dreams that we have, not to take it for granted.”