WOODLAWN CEMETERY — Santa Monica opens its newest war memorial at the Woodlawn Cemetery Monday.
At 11 a.m., city officials and families of fallen soldiers will unveil the Commemorative Wall, six simple pillars, each representing a foreign conflict, inscribed with the names of Santa Monicans who died in action.
Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who came up with the idea last year, will speak for a few minutes and then people will read off all of the inscribed names.
The vast majority of the names, he said, are of fallen soldiers who are not buried in Santa Monica. The memorial will give family members a place to go.
“When I looked at the list of names there was one that I recognized,” Holbrook said. “It was someone who I’d known for a long time but I didn’t know that his brother had died in Vietnam.”
When he spoke to his friend, a Santa Monica resident, Holbrook learned that the brother is buried in Riverside.
“It’s hard for him to make the trip out there as often as he’d like to,” he said. “Now he’ll be able to see his brother’s name honored in Santa Monica.”
The Santa Monica community raised $13,250 to fund the project, but taxpayers picked up an additional $23,050. Room has been left on each plaque to include names that were missed.
There are more than 125 names on the current list, which has grown steadily over the past year. City officials were confident that they’d tracked down most of them until President Barack Obama announced that Joe Gandara would receive the Medal of Honor 70 years after his death in Amferville, France.
Gandara, a Santa Monica, was passed over for the medal likely because of his Mexican heritage.
When Woodlawn Cemetery Administrator Cindy Tomlinson realized that they didn’t have Gandara on their list, she knew they were doing something wrong.
Cemetery staff had reviewed the names of soldiers who were buried during wartimes, but Gandara’s body was repatriated years later. Repatriation, in this case, refers to fallen soldiers who were removed from their original burial sites and returned home.
The staff went back and reviewed the names of all the soldiers, not just the ones that died during wartime, and found about dozen more repatriations.
Holbrook said that there’d been some discussion that the memorial should denote Gandara’s Medal of Honor status.
“We’d have to go through every single person and inscribe which citations they might have earned,” he said. “The names are going up there without rank or citations that they’ve earned because they all shared that thing in common that they all perished in service for our country, and whether they’re a private or a captain or a general or a sergeant, we didn’t think that was important that we put their rank.”
Today’s ceremony is the 76th annual Memorial Day celebration at Woodlawn and will include a military flyover by the Condor Squadron.
They will fly in the “Missing Man” formation, according to cemetery officials. This formation is an aerial salute to a fallen pilot.