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Hundreds remember fallen heroes in Collier County

Posted at 6:16 PM, May 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-28 18:16:13-04

Hundreds of people of all ages attended a Memorial Day ceremony at Hodges Funeral Home in North Naples Monday, honoring the sacrifices made by men and women who have served in America's armed forces.

Eli Denard never knew his grandfather William Branch, but that didn't stop him from reminiscing about his mother's dad in poem at the ceremony:

"Only the sound of Taps plays in the distance...a warrior has died," Eli read to the audience, as he stood at the podium near the grave sites of fallen servicemen and women.

Branch was killed while serving in the Vietnam War, when his daughter Jennifer - Eli's mother - was still a toddler.

"I didn't just lose a father," Jennifer said. "My son lost a grandfather. My children don't have him to go to church with every Sunday, and teach them all the things that he knows."

"I don't have my own memories of him," she added. "What I have are memories of going to ceremonies like this with my mother. I want to teach my children who he was, the kind of man he was."

Her father - and veterans of every war America has fought - were remembered in the solemn ceremony, which spoken remembrances of fallen warriors as well as musical tributes from the USA Freedom Kids and Pine Ridge Middle School band students.

After a flag-folding ceremony, Tina Anastasio's children were presented with one of the folded flags. Her husband Joseph, a career military man, died while stationed in Germany four years ago. 

"It's very difficult raising them alone," Anastasio said. "You don't go into (parenthood) expecting to do that."

"Just take a moment to stop and think about the families, what they give," she added. "(Memorial Day) is not all about barbecues and picnicking."

Bob McDonald, 94, a veteran of World War II, was glad to see so many people turn out to honor the men and women who gave their lives in the name of freedom.

"We have more liberty and more opportunity than any place else you'll find," he said.

Jennifer Denard also appreciated the people attending the ceremony.

"It was really heart-warming to see so many people, that aren't connected to the military, come and learn what sacrifice is," she said.