by Harry Parmenter
I did not serve my country as did my father and grandfather. Regardless, I felt compelled to attend the Memorial Day Tribute at Eternal Valley on May 27, 2019. I had been once years ago when the ceremony was held near the entrance gate. This time the ceremony was held atop the hill boasting a glorious view of the SCV on a spectacular holiday morning. What a special, moving event this was, commemorating those who played a pivotal role in making America the greatest instrument of liberty in human history. Looking around, I found myself in the presence of giants.
Vets were from the Vietnam War, Korean War and the big one, WW II, the great generation who saved the world from the tyranny of a German madman and the threat to the east. It occurred to me as I sat there that without the iron will of American forces 75 years ago, we’d be speaking another language and living a life without freedom.
Presiding as master of ceremonies that day was Bob Kellar, Mr. Santa Clarita in every way, shape and form. A flyover of four WWII AT6 aircraft kicked things off, three of the planes continuing straight after passing overhead, the fourth veering off to the north trailing a beautiful white plume of smoke. Following a powerful invocation by Pastor Elaine Cho came the posting of the colors. On paper, this may sound dull, but watching it, experiencing it, and again at the conclusion of the ceremony when the colors were retired, a palpable sense of power, glory and greatness filled the air. Greatness not of a jingoistic nature, but that of the quiet behemoth our country is, never the aggressor but ready, willing and able to fight—and prevail—when pushed to the limit.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance led by Korean vet John Coleman and a haunting bagpipe played by a fair-haired young lass came our always stirring National Anthem sung by West Ranch High’s Savannah Burrows. An emotional presentation of flags to grave markers highlighted the work of local Girl and Boy Scout chapters who had spent the previous day planting over 6,000 flags across the cemetery on the remains of the dead, including those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Bill Reynolds, one of the “Boys of ’67,” Charlie Company, delivered his message before segueing to keynote speaker Mike Garcia, an Iraq vet for the U.S. Navy. The 350+ of us present—soldiers who were “over there” wherever “there” was depending on when human life and freedom was at stake; families, friends, children too young to yet take the measure of Memorial Day’s meaning and magnitude; local dignitaries, including all City Council members; delegates sent by our recently elected representatives Ms. Hill and Ms. Smith, who were somehow unable to attend; these people and more, many of whom worked hard to ensure the day’s success, as well as random local citizens like myself were drawn to the tribute as to a close encounter with history.
Lieutenant Commander (and Saugus High grad) Garcia’s speech expanded a theme quoting John Stuart Mill: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse…A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
As I let that quote sink in, I found it more relevant than ever. Many people’s lives revolve around the me-all as end-all, personal identity and the rights of the individual trumping all. I sat in a back row watching, listening and just feeling Memorial Day’s import, surrounded by people whose simple, understated lives do the talking. People who shun the spotlight, seek only a peaceful life of fulfillment achieved by giving unto others, working collectively towards the greater good of a nation indivisible by the cult of personality glamorized by the media megaphone and those who diminish the fact that we are secure only due to the efforts of generations of quiet Americans comprising the military now and then.
Following a rifle corps salute, the mournful notes of “Taps” filled the air and the crowd united in silent contemplation. A benediction and the strains of the bagpipe encoring with “Amazing Grace” closed the proceedings.
As speaker Garcia articulated, and a pair of Vietnam vets I spoke with afterward amplified, Memorial Day isn’t really about barbecues and mattress sales, it’s about remembering fallen comrades and honoring these great Americans of character, integrity and action who serve, and served. They go about their business without ego or vanity, every race, creed, color and gender, bonded by the values symbolized by the stars and stripes.