This Monday is Memorial Day, a time to honor and remember military personnel who gave their life while serving their country. But it is more than just remembering those who sacrificed; it is a way to remember the history of the country because without those sacrifices our country would look much different.
“Freedom is not free,” said veteran Ken Jury.
He said he knew that was a clichéd phrase but that it was true. Jury served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam.
“Visit a military grave site, attend a [Memorial Day ceremony] or wear a poppy,” Jury said of what people can do to honor the day.
Poppies are distributed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization as a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers. The tradition began in 1915.
“It is not just a three-day holiday,” added Warren Spayth. He served in the U.S. Marines also in Vietnam. “I know a lot of times people think of barbecue and a time to get away for the holiday and they forget what the day is about. I think sometimes Memorial Day should be in the middle of the week so people will remember.”
On Wednesday afternoon Spayth and Jury along with fellow veterans Mike Baldwin and Steve Pierce, who also served in Vietnam, Roy Allmon who served in the Congo, and Nat Prescott who served in the Pacific during World War II, gathered at Two Strike Park for the cover photo for the Crescenta Valley Weekly.
As they gathered even for this brief time they spoke about their service. Jury and Prescott had served on the same aircraft carrier, although years apart. Pierce, former Navy, and Baldwin, former Army, discovered they were in Vietnam during the same years. Spayth also shared a year in common with them. And everyone listened to where Prescott had been and the campaigns he was part of.
Pierce, Spayth and Baldwin were in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, a campaign led by General Vo Nguyen Giap. This was a surprise offense against American and South Vietnamese forces where areas throughout the country were seized and the U.S. Embassy in Saigon was invaded.
They were all about 24 years old when they were either drafted or enlisted. They talked about their time served, the food they ate – some good, some not so good. The general consensus was the Navy had the best cuisine.
The vets shared stories of first impressions of Vietnam.
“It was so green,” Pierce said.
“Green and the humidity was 100% all the time,” Spayth added.
They also talked about being so far away from home and family members. During Vietnam they depended on letters, not email.
“My wife sent me a letter and then wrote, ‘Just a minute I hear something.’ She then continued by writing, ‘It was a burglar and I shot him,’” Baldwin said. “I thought no she has to be kidding, right.”
Unlike now where an email is instant Baldwin had to wait weeks to get a response.
“It wasn’t until I received the next letter from her that said ‘Ha ha,’” he said.
Being away from family was difficult for most but for veteran Keith Mosure it was the getting away part that was difficult.
Mosure, in an earlier interview, shared his experience in the military. He served in the Army in Korea and Vietnam.
“I come from a military family,” he said.
He was excited about being stationed on a remote island but soon found it was more like home.
“I got there and found that both my mother and father were stationed there as well. Half way across the world and I end up still answering to my mother,” he added.
Prescott had enlisted when he was 17 years old in 1943, serving until 1947 on an aircraft carrier.
“I went on the old [USS Aircraft Carrier] Saratoga when I was 10. I decided then I was going to enlist when I was old enough,” he said.
During his time in the Pacific he was part of nine campaigns. He described one of his typical campaigns during the Okinawa battle.
“The enemy was within five miles of our ship for 53 days,” he said. “People know about the Marines that died but there were 10,000 sailors killed during the Okinawa campaign.”
And with that one statement the focus was brought back to what the day was about. Those who have served no matter what era have camaraderie of service and of sacrifice. They share common stories of friends lost and remembrance paid. Keeping Memorial Day relevant is to them a way of continuing to be a good buddy and a good soldier.
“It is our duty to honor those and to remember,” Jury added.
Memorial Day ceremony at Two Strike Park will begin at 8 a.m. A Walk of Honor will be presented with flags representing those who have given their lives in the service of their country. Names have been gathered from throughout the community of family members and friends who have died in service to the nation. Spayth will be guest speaker and there will be a reading of names of Crescenta Valley soldiers who have died in service.
Another Memorial Day ceremony at 8 a.m. will be held at the corner of Ocean View Boulevard and Honolulu Avenue at the Vietnam War memorial. There will be several speakers including Congressman David Dreier. The event is co-hosted by the Montrose Shopping Park Association and the Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce.