By Mary O’KEEFE and Charly SHELTON
In the Crescenta Valley, three separate ceremonies honored those who lost their lives fighting the nation’s battles.
Vietnam War Memorial – Montrose
The sidewalks and grassy area on the northwest side of Honolulu Avenue and Ocean View Boulevard was packed on Monday morning with people honoring those who served in the military and paid the ultimate price.
The ceremony was held at the Vietnam War Memorial, which will have a ceremony recognizing its 50th year on June 16. The morning ceremony on Monday had several dignitaries in attendance including Congressman Adam Schiff, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, State Senator Anthony Portantino, State Assemblymember Laura Friedman, Glendale Mayor Zareh Sinanyan, along with several members of the Glendale City Council, the Glendale Unified School District board of education and GUSD Superintendent Winfred Roberson. The president of Montrose Shopping Park, Andre Ordubegian, and Montrose Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce president George Pondella welcomed the audience to the event that was hosted by both organizations.
“Those who we honor today came from all walks of life. They were ordinary people like you and me who responded in extraordinary ways through difficult times we faced in the nation,” Ordubegian said.
Congressman Schiff spoke of his recent trip to Afghanistan and meeting with the military forces serving there.
“Again I was struck, as I always am, by the incredible, brave and courageous men and women we have wearing the American uniform all over the world,” he said. “I was also struck about just how young they are.”
Schiff added his father had joined the military directly out of high school, and reminisced about how difficult it must have been for him and for those young people serving today having so much responsibility placed upon them.
“I think about them … I worry about them,” he added.
There are considerably more men and women serving in Afghanistan now than a few years ago.
“And yet every year we take causalities in Afghanistan. They don’t raise the same public attention, of course, because the numbers [of deaths] are much smaller. But if you are the family of a soldier … who is affected, it is as if the whole world is at war and when there is a loss of life it is as if the whole world has come crashing down,” he said. “We pray for them and for their families.”
State Senator Portantino spoke of the solemn ceremony that remembers those who have died. He spoke of travels to Korea and to a Korean conflict/war memorial. He spoke of how television shows and films try to bring the feeling of war to their audiences, how they try to “touch us.”
“But nothing compares to seeing the names on the walls, of Californians and of Americans on that wall,” he said.
Portantino shared some statistics of those who have been lost to war:
There were 36,574 Americans killed in the Korean War; 103,284 were wounded; 7,704 are still unaccounted.
“For me, that is staggering,” he said of those missing in action.
He continued to state statistics including that 23,000 Californians died in World War II, 2,611 Californians died in the Korea conflict/war and 5,573 Californians died in Vietnam.
Assemblymember Friedman focused on the education provided by the wars battled. She said all are familiar with the philosophy of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“Be sure we teach our children history, and the history of wars our nation [has fought]. I heard some really shocking statistics,” she said. “An incredible [number] of young people don’t know what WWII was and why we were fighting in WWII. An incredible high number, over 50%, don’t know what Auschwitz was. That is shocking.”
Friedman said children must be taught the history of what sacrifices soldiers have made for the country.
“Ultimately, the way we honor those who have perished in our wars is to support those who come home safely, and we don’t always do a great job with that in this nation. So we all have to commit to support the veterans who walk among us and remember those who didn’t come home,” she said.
Supervisor Barger continued the thought of supporting those who came home and those who may not have anyone else to support them. She had discovered that each month LA County lays to rest at the national cemetery indigent veterans. She said she created an initiative that was supported by the entire board of supervisors to read the names of those veterans who passed.
“They served our country with honor and deserve a dignified burial among their military brothers and sisters,” she said. “While our ultimate goal is to never forget a veteran and their days [of service] it is important to remember there are those who have given, who have no one to remember what they have given,” she said.
She added honoring those who served and those who died while in service is something that should be done every day.
“As we stand here today, the significance of Memorial Day weighs heavily on me,” said Mayor Sinanyan. “We must not only remember our heroes but how our actions and our decisions give meaning to those sacrifices. This accounting and self-reflection must be continuous in nature. It must be daily; anything short of that would be a betrayal of those high principles for which their sacrifices were made and a betrayal of the sacrifice itself.”
Memorial Park – La Cañada
The Memorial Day service in La Cañada Flintridge was a youth-driven event. The Blair High School JROTC color guard began the ceremony with the presentation of the colors. Boy Scouts Leonard Pieroni and John Moore, and Girl Scout Naomi Stephen performed the duties as masters and mistress of ceremonies.
“It is our responsibility to carry the traditions of Memorial Day,” Stephen said to the audience.
With that, they invited all the veterans in the audience to join them on stage where they had created a specific area for them to sit: center stage.
Then Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts took the microphone one-by-one to read letters written by soldiers over the years, many of which were written to their mothers during World War I. Some of the letters read were from poet and soldier Wilfred Owen, a British citizen who served in the military from 1915 to 1918. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in August 1918 and, in November, he was killed while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre canal at Ors.
“As two British officers knocked on [Owen’s] mother’s door [to tell her of his death] the bells of Armistice rang,” said one of the readers.
The letters that were read by the Scouts were dramatic and painted a picture of the tragedy of war.
Then, one-by-one, the veterans who were on the stage announced their name, rank and where they served. The oldest was a 100-year-old WWII soldier.
Among the highlights was a performance by Maggie McKenzie who sang a haunting rendition of “Danny Boy.” Mayor Terry Walker also addressed the crowd.
Two Strike Park – La Crescenta
At Two Strike Park in La Crescenta another observance was held for the community. The service was centered around the Memorial Wall, which was installed as a joint effort between the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1614 and the American Legion Post 288 to honor the local resident servicemen who were reported missing or killed in action during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. This year, the keynote address was delivered by Capt. Ralph Scaffidi, U.S. Navy Reserve – Retired. He gave a bit of history, entwined with personal observation, and summed up the holiday perfectly.
“The Civil War, which began in the spring of 1861, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and it required the establishment of our country’s first national cemetery. By the mid-1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes for these fallen soldiers with the commemoration and decoration of graves of those fallen soldiers, whether Union or Confederate,” Scaffidi said. “Now every last weekend in May, we see a familiar scene – a picnic, a day at the beach, a trip to visit family and friends, a backyard cookout. All of these and many other fun leisure activities have, over the past decades, come to represent Memorial Day for many Americans. It’s the unofficial beginning of the summer season. In many ways, these are fitting activities because they represent the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are active and joyful expressions of free people celebrating their way of living. But what does seem to be missing more often, at least in large part from my perspective, is an active appreciation of the underlying meaning of this day.”
Scaffidi also spoke in particular about fellow sailor Lt. Cmdr. James Bauder, who lived for a time in La Cañada and whose remains were found and repatriated last year.
He spoke about the importance of finding this soldier’s remains, the closure it offers to his family so many years after he went missing and how hardships like these bring to light the meaning behind Memorial Day.