Susan Williams clutched a framed black-and-white photograph of her dad, James Stafford Caldwell close to her chest.
Williams and her mother, Evelyn Caldwell attended a Memorial Day ceremony at Forest Meadows Cemetery located at 3700 SE Hawthorne Road to remember James Caldwell who served during World War II in the Army. He died Nov. 4, 2012.
James Caldwell was a student at the University of Florida when he was drafted. He wanted to fly the planes but was colorblind. Instead, he was in the back of the plane using Morse code to communicate with troops below.
Williams said she grew up listening to her dad’s war stories.
“It really opened my eyes about war,” she said.
Now every year she and her mom bring his photograph to the memorial.
“Ain’t that a handsome man?” his wife said as she looked at a picture of her husband, who was 18-years-old at the time.
He and Evelyn were married for 65 years.
During the ceremony, multiple government officials such as Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell dedicated their speeches to veterans.
Darnell said she keeps a picture of family members who served in various branches in her office to remind her of their sacrifice and service.
“This is the land of the free because of the brave,” she said as she held up a black-and-white picture of her parents.
Among the war veterans was retired Marine Cary Hill. He is the unit commander of a Marine youth group for children eight-years-old through high school graduation called Milton Lewis Young Marines, named after local war hero U.S. Marine Cpl. Milton Lewis. He was the first Gainesville resident killed in action during World War II after the battle of Tulagi.
Hill said he often thinks of Lewis’ sacrifice on Memorial Day.
“Freedom is not free,” he said. “A lot of veterans paid the ultimate price,”
One of his Young Marines, Richard Newman, 10, knows the importance of remembering soldiers:
“To honor all the veterans that have fallen and for those that are still here,” he said.
Another Young Marine, Talla Aasved, joined the program two years ago after she watched a Memorial Day ceremony performed by the group. The 13-year-old said she’s learned leadership skills in the program.
She said it’s important to celebrate the men and women serving our country.
“They don’t have to go out and fight for us but they decided to and that’s a big thing.”