Memorial Day service celebrates uniqueness of America’s armed forces

Hundreds of American flags were placed at the graves sites of fallen servicemen and women over the weekend by veterans groups for Monday’s Memorial Day service at Lawn Haven Memorial Gardens. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

The sky broke open over Clovis and Lawn Haven Memorial Gardens on Monday morning just in time for the annual memorial day service.

Surrounded by hundreds of American flags flapping beneath the pristine blue sky, former soldiers and city residents gathered at the cemetery grounds to honor those who died serving America in war.

A 21-gun salute and a somber rendition of Taps evoked memories for members of the American Legion Post 25.
“When they fire those (rifles), it brings a little tear to our eyes,” said Ray Anaya, who served 21 years in the Air Force and an equal time in the Civil Service.

One Korean War veteran said the rendition of Taps ushered him back to another era.

“I remember that every night,” said Tony Rubio, who went into Korea in 1951. “They blow taps, and then that’s light’s out.”

Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, delivered the keynote address, taking the opportunity to speak of the diversity in the American forces — about how people of all race, gender, creed and culture joined together in military service and fought America’s enemies.

“Each one who died in these conflicts was a loved one,” Campos said, citing the million or so Americans who have perished in combat since the nation first fought for independence. “We must instruct our children of the great importance of the history we have.”

Air Force veteran Trini Ortiz remembered a fellow recruit he met in basic training who was from New York and had never driven a car in his life.

“What was funny,” Ortiz chuckled, “is they assigned him to motor pool.” They came from all walks of life, Ortiz said, but they all came together to serve.

Al Carrasco, a former airman in the Air Force and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars/Auxilary 3015, remembered the joy of returning home from the Korean War.

“When I came back, I kissed the ground in Seattle when I got off the plane,” he said. “I was so glad to get out of that country.”

But the unfortunate truth — and the reason for Memorial Day — is many of America’s soldiers never returned.

“A lot of friends died over there,” said Greg Lopez, who spent 1969 fighting in Vietnam with the Army.

Rick Robertson, vice chairman of the Clovis Joint Veteran’s Council, followed Campos’ speech by honoring all the war veterans of the country — those who fell in battle and those who came home.

“I think we should go one step further, (and honor) those who are serving and those who have served,” said Robertson, who also organized the event. “We’re not all dead, but hey, we did our thing.”

And that was the central message as Clovis’ residents and former veterans stood on the cemetery grounds Monday, surrounded by the symbols of America, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in unison, listening intently to the sentiments of Campos and others.

Also in attendance were Lee Roach and Buren Johnston, both survived the hellish Bataan Death March and subsequent internment during World War II.

The AMVETS Post 14, American Legion Post 117, Elks and Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars/Auxilary 3015 and American Legion Post 25 all posted colors at the service.