A decision to omit three Confederate soldiers from the state’s fledgling Veterans Hall of Fame likely never looked better than it did Monday to state officials.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott mostly avoided having to discuss the state’s Civil War past during a ceremony honoring five veterans thanks in large part to a decision in March by him and the Cabinet to leave off the names of three who fought for the Confederate States of America.
But that didn’t sit well with David McCallister, a member of the Sons of the Confederacy from Wesley Chapel who led a one-man protest before Scott arrived. Waving a small Confederate flag and wearing a tie with the same design, McCallister stood at the front of the ceremony with about 200 people declaring Florida needed to recognize Confederate soldiers along with U.S. military veterans.
“All of Florida’s veterans need to be respected,” McCallister said before being escorted out of the room by Capitol Police. McCallister was later allowed to go back into the event and watched the proceedings without further incident.
Asked afterward about the outburst, Scott said he didn’t see or hear any of it.
The state’s seven-member Veterans Hall of Fame Council nominated eight people to be part of Monday’s ceremony, including Confederate soldiers Edward Perry; David Lang, Florida’s first adjutant general; and Samuel Pasco, a Harvard-educated prisoner of war and U.S. senator for whom Pasco County is named.
But earlier this year all three were ruled ineligible by Department of Veterans Affairs executive director Mike Prendergast, who said the state could only honor veterans who served in the “United States Military.” Scott and the Cabinet followed in March by refusing to add any of the Confederate soldiers to the list despite pleas from Confederate heritage groups. And that was long before Confederate backlash after the deadly shootings in South Carolina last month.
The Hall of Fame inductees Monday were the late LeRoy Collins Jr. of Tampa, a rear admiral in the U.S. Naval Reserve and son of former Gov. LeRoy Collins; retired Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden, the highest ranking survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II; retired Army Maj. Gen. James Dozier; retired Army Col. Frank Farmer, a former state surgeon general; and Chief Master Sgt. Eugene Cecil Johnson, the first African-American and first enlisted member of the Hall of Fame.
“I’m very proud that this is a state that cares about our veterans,” Scott said at the afternoon ceremony in which the veterans’ names were added to a ceremonial bronze plaque in the entrance of the state Capitol Building that now has 11 names on it.
McCallister said state officials can expect to see him and other members of the Sons of the Confederacy at future induction ceremonies. He said every year they are going to attend to make sure the state does not forget the people who fought for Florida.
“These are the men, for good or bad, who rebuilt Florida after the war,” McCallister said. “To exclude them is really a crime against history.”
For the next inductee class, McCallister said he has already submitted the names of two Confederate war veterans.
Inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame
LeRoy Collins Jr.: A 1956 U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Navy submariner who spent 10 years on active duty before joining the Navy Reserve. The late rear admiral is the son of former Gov. LeRoy Collins. Former executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.
James Lee Dozier: The retired Army major general is a 1956 U.S. Military Academy graduate and recipient of both the Silver Star and Purple Heart from his service in Vietnam. In 1981, he was held for 42 days by the Italian Red Brigades before an Italian anti-terrorism team rescued him from his captors.
Dr. Harry Frank Farmer Jr.: Served in the U.S. Army, Florida National Guard and U.S. Air Force before his retirement as a colonel in 2004. A Vietnam veteran and former professor of history, Farmer became a physician in 1976 and served as president of the Florida Medical Association, chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine, and from 2011-2012 as Florida’s surgeon general and secretary of health.
Eugene Cecil Johnson: Spent 31 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 1982 as a chief master sergeant, the service’s highest enlisted rank.
Lawrence F. Snowden: A retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general and senior ranking survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
Rejected for the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame
Edward Perry: The former Confederate general led Florida’s forces at the Battle of Chancellorsville and fought at Gettysburg. After the war, was elected governor in 1884.
David Lang: Led the Florida Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the Civil War ended, he was appointed adjutant general by the governor, placing him in charge of Florida National Guard troops from 1885 to 1894.
Samuel Pasco: Harvard-educated Confederate soldier who was prisoner of war. After the war, he was speaker of the Florida House and later a U.S. senator. Pasco County is named after him.