U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s casket arrived at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks in Largo, where thousands of people are on hand to pay their respects to the longtime congressman, who died Friday.
The mourners include more than 100 members of Congress and top local and state officials, along with senior military leaders, who benefitted greatly from the powerful Republican’s support over the years.
Congress is shut down for the day so members can attend the funeral, and the military arranged for special flights to transport members of Congress from Washington, D.C.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, are among those scheduled to eulogize Young. A letter from former President George W. Bush to Young’s widow, Beverley, also will be read at the funeral. Young will be buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg this afternoon.
“People who can’t work together are coming down to honor my father,” said Young’s son, Bill Young II. “That’s the kind of man he was.”
Young’s moderate views in a time of heightened political antagonism and willingness to work with Democrats won him the respect of people across the political spectrum.
“Bill Young represented the kind of person that would reach out and respect the other fella and then work out the differences in a bipartisan way,” Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said outside the church today. “What a contrast to what we’re seeing today, where it’s so ideologically driven and so partisan.”
Young’s constituents are here to honor him, too, and to pay tribute to what they did for them personally, for his district and the country.
“Bill Young and his wife Beverly have done so much for Gold Star families and for the wounded,” said Kari Cowan, who became a Gold Star spouse in 2005 after her husband, Aaron Cowan, was killed in a helicopter accident while serving with the U.S. Army in Korea.
“I have two sons who are veterans, and what the Youngs have done means so much, so I wanted to come and honor him.”
“No one did more for veterans,” said Randall McNabb, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, the nonprofit motorcycle group that will escort Young’s casket to Bay Pines cemetery. “When I got out of the Army in 1977, he helped me with a problem.”
Young’s funeral is jamming area roads. Motorists are advised to avoid the area near First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, which is at 12685 Ulmerton Road, until at least 3:30 p.m., and the area near the cemetery, which is at 1000 Bay Pines Blvd., between 2 and 5 p.m.
Accolades started pouring in for the 82-year-old from Indian Shores even before he died, as the popular Republican known for his moderate political views and defense of the military fought for his life last week at Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland. Back home, Young built a solid reputation for tending to constituents’ needs and bringing federal dollars back to District 13, which he represented for 42 years.
Wednesday, hundreds of people paid their respects to Young and his family during a public visitation at the C.W. Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center in Pinellas Park.
Young, a nine-year veteran of the Army National Guard who also spent six more years as a reservist, will be buried at the veterans cemetery next to the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, which likely will soon become yet another of Young’s namesakes.
A bill to rename the hospital after Young passed a voice vote on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night and will likely be taken up by the Senate, in a bill introduced by Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, when it returns from recess next week.
The honor seems fitting to Jack Arrant, Beverly Young’s uncle, a U.S. Army veteran who uses the Bay Pines VA Medical Center.
“The doctors said one day the place would be named for him because he did so much for it,” said Arrant, 84, outside First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks this morning.
Tribune reporters Howard Altman and Kate Bradshaw contributed to this report.