Memorial Day: Remembering the fallen
Imagine straining to listen for an incoming rocket, sleeping with body armor nearby to maintain a state of readiness, or trying to anticipate an explosive device on the ground that may be under your feet. Now imagine that this is your life.
The City of Santa Monica hosted its 75th Annual Memorial Day Observance, with participants including Shaun Dove of the Santa Monica Police Department, who sang the National Anthem and the Santa Monica Oceanaires, who sang some patriotic classics. A military flyover depicted the "Missing Man Formation."
Robert Anthony Pickett, a veteran and president of The Santa Monica Elks Club was the master of ceremonies. The Elks Club started the first Memorial Day Ceremony at Woodlawn Cemetery 75 years ago.
"The Elks Club did it for 71 years and the city of Santa Monica took it over for the last four years," said Pickett. "It's a very well done program. The city and the cemetery did a fantastic job."
"We honor our veterans," said Pickett. "It is an American tradition and should never be forgotten."
Councilman Tony Vasquez had a nephew who was a Marine that did three tours overseas, but was sadly killed in Pakistan.
"Everyone recognizes heroes that are in sports and movies but they forget about those heroes in war," said Vasquez. "They're overlooked."
Eldonna Lewis Fernandez, retired US Air Force Master Sergeant, spoke of how the military became her family after she was abandoned by her father.
Lewis-Fernandez came home one day and "nothing was there, everything was gone, the furniture was gone," said Lewis.
Lewis-Fernandez had no family. She was alone and felt abandoned.
Within a few months, she was taking the oath to defend the US against all enemies foreign and domestic.
She found that "being in the military was more than wearing a uniform or carrying a gun, it's that deep connection."
When Lewis-Fernandez heard that her father had died, she felt an overflow of support from her military family.
"I felt the comfort and security of a family I never had and I knew I'd never be abandoned again," she said.
Jessica Cusick, the cultural affairs manager for the city of Santa Monica, has been working with councilman Bob Holbrook and the entire city council to develop a commemorative wall at Woodlawn Cemetery to honor Santa Monica residents who have died in war.
"Something simple and elegant that would honor those in Santa Monica that lost their lives in active duty during war," said Cusick.
Retired Santa Monica fire chief Ettore Berardinelli said society should re-examine its definition of a hero.
"Heroism demands a much deeper personal sacrifice," he said. "For servicemen, a hero is a commitment to a noble purpose despite the consequences that may bring and sometimes it results in their ultimate sacrifice."