Hundreds of family, friends and supporters paid their respects Wednesday to Congressman Bill Young during a public viewing in at the Armed Forces Reserve Center that bears his name in Pinellas Park.
After more than 50 years in public office, Young gained the respect of presidents, four-star generals, front-line troops and veterans, some of whom attended the ceremony.
"He respected everyone," said retired Air Force Col. Zack Shelley, who worked with Young for several years. "There was no one that wasn't a friend and he was the kind of guy you'd like to have as a friend."
Flowers and portraits of Young filled the reserve center, with an open casket at the front of the room and loved ones nearby. A total of as many as 6,000 people are expected to attend the visitation and funeral, including many of the country's top military brass.
Many of Florida leaders and lawmakers joined in the procession through the visitation room to say goodbye to the longtime politician who has been hailed for his work to help veterans, particularly wounded military members.
"All throughout my recovery, [Young and his wife, Beverly] had been there every step of the way, making sure everything was right, up there at Walter Reed," said Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Nicholson, a triple amputee who spent time at the Military Medical Facility in Washington D.C. after he was wounded in Afghanistan. "He is a huge supporter of the troops. A great American. A great patriot."
Gov. Rick Scott ordered flags flown at half-staff statewide on Thursday in Young's honor.
Prior to the viewing, Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, Adjutant General of Florida, said Young understood even the most complicated issues involved with defending the country. His support of the military is legendary.
"We would sit down and he would say to me, and honestly say, 'What can I do for you? What can I do for the Florida National Guard, the United States Army or the U.S. Air Force?' His heart was behind it," Titshaw said. "He reached across aisles. He worked with everyone to get things done and I admire him deeply."
Young brought hundreds of millions of dollars into Pinellas and the Tampa Bay area with federal funding for roads, beaches, the arts, technology and research.
"It's a big loss. it's going to be big shoes to fill for somebody, for whoever takes his place," said Lt. Tom Nestor, with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Friends said Young touched so many lives during his career, that the public support for him and his family comes as no surprise.
"I think when you look at him, he's a model, a role model for all of us to follow," Maj. Gen. Titshaw said.
Congressman Young's funeral is Thursday at 1 p.m. and is open to the public. It will be held at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rrocks in Largo.
It will be followed by a private burial at Bay Pines National Cemetery.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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