- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. — Bill Monfort, 91, wears short sleeves as he stands in a stiff wind along Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard.

With his sturdy, weathered hand, the World War II veteran proudly clutches a billowing U.S. flag. He could be resting this afternoon, as the sun lowers orange on the horizon and the temperature begins to chill. But he stands resolute as suburbanites leave work, whizzing by the upscale waterfront, honking their horns in acknowledgment as he waves back.

Mr. Monfort is a member of the Bayshore Patriots, a diverse band of brothers and sisters who gather on a grassy median here every Friday, no matter what the weather. Joined by their love of country and their desire to remind residents that the nation remains at war, they show up to wave Old Glory proudly. They have been doing it since September 11, 2001, and plan to continue until the war ends.

“The fact that our troops are still over there … we should support them,” said Mr. Monfort, a spry senior who still drives and who reminds a visitor that he once survived a Japanese kamikaze attack aboard a destroyer in the Pacific. He served in the Big One, he said, but knows greater fights lie ahead.

“Everybody came together in World War II,” he said of a national bond against a global threat. “Since then, it hasn’t been that good.”

Mr. Monfort and his colleagues hope to change that by example. Their group, patriotic and not political, comes out once a week for an hour and a half to show that U.S. pride still means something to them and is a value worth remembering and defending. Locals say the group is a constant and inspiring presence that makes them feel good about being American.

“If something happens negative or positive in the war, our crowd grows,” said Bill Hamblin, who has missed just nine Fridays since the fateful day nearly 6½ years ago when terrorists seized aircraft and attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Mr. Hamblin, a Vietnam veteran and active Veterans of Foreign Wars commander, is a retired policeman who now works for Verizon. Wearing his post commander’s hat with an orange patch to signify his state, Mr. Hamblin joined a few of the faithful, all dressed in matching shirts.

“When 9/11 happened, I felt violated,” he said. “I wanted to show the terrorists that they can’t intimidate or demoralize the U.S. Waving a flag, it’s a very simple show of support. I’m not a soldier or a New Yorker, but what I can do is to come out here and show my patriotism and my support for all of our soldiers and first responders.”

Mr. Hamblin said the effort has taken on a life of its own. The group started small, with maybe a dozen volunteers. On the first anniversary of September 11, more than 100,000 supporters lined Bayshore for more than three miles to wave flags and remember the victims and honor the troops. Politicians have stopped by to pick up flags, but they don’t come for endorsements — partisanship is forbidden.

Even President Bush made a visit, getting out of his motorcade during a Tampa trip to shake hands and thank the veterans. He later honored one of the group’s original founders, Julie Adcock Whitney, with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the city and a lot of support from the base,” said Mr. Hamblin, referring to the nearby MacDill Air Force Base, which houses the U.S. Central Command and a host of coalition forces.

Many of the base’s service personnel drive past the Patriots’outpost during their commutes.

Korean War veteran Paul Diehl, who sits on a stool to wave the flag because a stroke 2½ years ago forced him to miss a month of Patriot duty, said he is proud to show them his respect.

“Just to be able to stand in the shadows of these guys, it’s awesome,” said Mr. Diehl, who regrets that he can’t stand the whole time.

“I don’t have an issue,” he said, downplaying his health concerns. “These kids who come back, they have real issues.”

George Fulton, who works in the insurance business, started coming to the Patriot gathering in 2002. He waves a flag that flew over Baghdad, given to him by his brother Mark, who served in the U.S. Army Reserve.

“I’m proud of him,” said Mr. Fulton. “Now that my brother is back home, this gives me the chance to help out the other troops who are serving, to improve their morale and let them know we support them.”

The Patriots also host a coalition Thanksgiving dinner for troops stationed in Tampa who have to spend the holiday away from home. Similar groups have spun off in other communities.

Mr. Hamblin said the volunteers have endured high winds, pelting rain and a nearby lightning strike, which raised the hair on his neck and head as he scrambled for cover. Still, no matter the weather, he and others don’t want to forget that somewhere, far away and close to home, someone is sacrificing for them. Every Friday, they’ll return.

“Just being out here each week is like being a cheerleader,” said Patriot member Cornell Nobles, a laborer in a battery factory. “As people drive down the street, many of them don’t even think of our soldiers. Yet they are enjoying the benefits of our freedom.

“I’m for God and country,” said Mr. Nobles, raising his hand to acknowledge a driver who gives him the thumbs-up. “One without the other means nothing.”

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