Not just brick and mortar, the Memorial Wall at Two Strike Park has a foundation of community support.
By Mary O’KEEFE and Jason KUROSU
“It stops your life at that moment. At 5:45 in the morning, when that doorbell rang, Carolyn jumped up and said, ‘Oh no.’”
That is how Paul Steinbacher described the worst day of his life. The day that two soldiers came to his door to tell him his son, Nick, had been killed in Iraq. Army Spc. Nick Steinbacher was killed by a roadside bomb on Dec. 10, 2006. He graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 2003.
“It’s amazing how one event changed my entire life,” said Susan Bedal.
She still remembers the day when, pregnant with her second child, was told her husband First Lt. Arthur “Skip” Bedal had been killed while serving in Vietnam. As she spoke at a recent Memorial Day service, the memory of that day was as if it were just yesterday rather than 50 years earlier.
“You move on a little bit, but it comes back,” Steinbacher said. “So much of your life is [measured by] ‘That was when we lost Nick.’”
The pain of losing a loved one who has served their country and given the ultimate sacrifice is something that never leaves one’s heart and in Crescenta Valley, thanks to some tenacious veterans who would do anything for their fallen comrades, there will be a place to honor them. The Two Strike Park War Memorial Wall will be dedicated on Sept. 29 to those lost, and the entire community is invited to the dedication.
“This memorial wall will allow a lot of people to evaluate [their loss],” Steinbacher said. It will provide families with a place where their loved one will always be remembered.
Though the war memorial at Two Strike Park has stood for over 50 years as a monument to the foothills’ fallen soldiers, it has been incomplete in its recognition of all those who have died while in service. The wall will now bear the names of 45 soldiers who lived in the foothills and died serving their country.
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion began the journey to build or remodel the existing memorial wall after Nick Steinbacher’s death.
It wasn’t an easy task. Just as they began to fundraise, the economy took a downturn. Money did come in but very slowly. Then a couple of years ago they reached out to the community.
The Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce partnered with the American Legion and VFW to form a committee. It in turn reached out to the community as a whole and fundraising efforts took off.
“We thought about just adding the names to the existing wall,” said Roy Allmon, a veteran who served in the Congo and designed the new wall. “The (L.A.) County Parks Dept. said the wall wouldn’t be able to hold the additional weight, though. So, we just redesigned it instead.”
For nearly seven years, the committee raised funds for the new wall and last year the committee members were finally able to bring the concept to construction.
“The original rendition of the wall was one wall, then one wall with two wings,” said Mike Baldwin, Vietnam veteran. “It just took on a life of its own.”
“The memorial wall needed to be updated and the only way it was going to happen was to take down the existing wall,” said Jean Maluccio of both the CV Chamber of Commerce and the memorial committee. “Unfortunately the price for this was high, but not as high as the price paid by those who gave their lives for the flag they believed in.”
“Once L.A. County got involved, things stepped up,” Baldwin said.
There was a USO dance that kicked off the main fundraisers off and then there were bingo nights, pancake breakfasts and 5K runs. There were donations from Forest Lawn and a $5,000 donation from Home Depot, secured by Assemblymember Mike Gatto.
And then there were personal donations by those known to the community including Congressman Adam Schiff, Gatto and Anthony Portantino.
“And it was the community. The schools, chamber of commerce and CV Town Council,” Baldwin added. “If it wasn’t for the community support, this [wouldn’t have happened].”
Beside Nick’s name, Baldwin knew two others that will be on the wall.
“I knew Michael Najarian. He was a neighbor,” Baldwin said.
Najarian, CPL -US Marine Corps, died in Vietnam in 1966.
Baldwin also knew Stephen Burlingame, SP4-US Army, who died in Vietnam in 1967. He had gone to high school and college with Baldwin.
“I had lost track of him in 1961, and then found he had died in 1967 in Vietnam,” he said.
The memorial dedication ceremony will be at noon on Sept. 29. The entire community is invited to Two Strike Park for the event.
“I am so proud of those guys from the VFW [and American Legion] in accomplishing this task,” Steinbacher said. “It was an uphill battle … It is really a testament to their fortitude.”
Steinbacher grew up playing at Two Strike Park and he and his wife Carolyn took their children to the park.
“We remember taking all of the kids there to play. It is truly a fitting spot in the community,” Steinbacher said. “A star on the hill.”
The wall is still in need of some electrical work and landscaping, but it’s expected to be finished soon, certainly in time for the memorial’s rededication ceremony on Sept. 29 at noon. Along with the unveiling of the wall, there will be performances by the CV High band, food and more.
Two Strike Park is located at 5107 Rosemont Ave. in La Crescenta.