For 14 years, Ron and Aileen Payne have worked to coordinate a special Memorial Day service at their home church. And for 15 years, the memories remain vivid, the cause remains honored and justified, and the tears remain flowing.
On Sunday at Calvary Baptist Church, the Paynes joined about 800 others — retired and active military, JROTC high school students, first responders, families, friends and area dignitaries — in the church’s annual Memorial Day Weekend Service.
Inside the church at 1945 N. Florida Ave., a program brought together folks from across Polk County and beyond to honor and pay tribute to military heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice during duty.
This year, U.S. Army Specialist Zachary Shannon, U.S. Marine Cpl. Ronald Payne Jr. — the Paynes’ son — and U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart were honored for their service.
In front of the church platform, a table was set up bearing two guns with Shannon’s and Payne’s combat helmets perched on top and Stewart’s Air Force officer’s service cap placed on top of a white wooden cross in between. At the bottom of each was a folded American flag and pictures of each of the deceased soldiers.
Pews had been set aside for each of the soldiers’ families, including Chip and Kim Allison of Dunedin, Shannon’s parents. For each, the Memorial Day service meant more than a day off from the office or day at the beach.
Shannon was killed March 11, 2013, in a helicopter crash in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He’s buried in Dunedin.
Payne was the first Marine killed in combat in Afghanistan on May 7, 2004. He was the only one of 2,200 men in his unit who did not return.
Stewart was an Air Force pilot shot down in Vietnam, having previously served in World War II and Korea. He was missing for 52 years until 2018 when his remains were located and brought home to Winter Haven. He left behind a wife and six children. His family members attended the service.
The Allisons have three other sons who also served: Steve Shannon, 31, U.S. Army; Joe Mirrone, 38, U.S. Army; and Robert Mirrione, 36, U.S. Navy.
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SOURCE: The Ledger, Paul Catala