WOODLAWN CEMETERY — The sun shone over Woodlawn Cemetery Mortuary and Mausoleum Monday morning as Santa Monicans gathered to pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives in service to their country.
Monday marked Santa Monica’s 75th Memorial Day celebration, an event as synonymous with the holiday as the smell of barbecue on the outdoor grill at Bob’s Market just a few blocks away.
The celebration stuck to its tried and true format, with R.A. Pickett, exalted ruler of the Santa Monica Elks Lodge, leading attendees through a decorated list of speakers followed up by a flyover of classic airplanes and the raising of the American flag from half staff to its full glory.
Keynote speaker Ettore Berardinelli, former chief of the Santa Monica Fire Department and staff sergeant with the U.S. Army, summed up the difficulty of Memorial Day in his speech, in which he extolled on the duty Americans have to remember the fallen.
“It’s humbling to speak to you because I’ve never had a shot fired at me in anger. I’ve never had to wonder if I would live to see the end of my tour,” Berardinelli said. “The only thing we have in common is the love of our country — to speak of their valor and sacrifice is an honor.”
That is the fundamental struggle with Memorial Day. Although veterans are recognized, it’s a day to think on the men and women who are absent rather than those that came back.
That sentiment was encapsulated in this year’s flyover in the Missing Man Formation performed by the Condor Squadron, a nonprofit based out of Van Nuys Airport that flies AT-6 airplanes from World War II for parades, memorial services and other veterans events.
“We honor our vets, talk of their bravery and honor their commitment, but their sacrifice goes beyond any words today or anything we may do,” Berardinelli said. “It is our duty to remember them.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Memorial Day began three years after the end of the Civil War as “Decoration Day,” a time to adorn the graves of the war dead with flowers.
It wasn’t until the end of the first World War that officials expanded the purpose of the day to include the dead of all of America’s conflicts, a national day of reckoning where those who benefit from the sacrifices of individuals in the military can pay their respects.
Santa Monica city officials used the Memorial Day celebration to introduce the city’s newest memorial, a wall that will sit outside of the mausoleum marked with the name of each Santa Monican who died in military service.
The City Council approved the project in February, and Monday was the official launch of fundraising to pay for the memorial. The full wall is expected to cost between $7,500 and $15,000, according to City Hall.
“We’re looking to do something simple and elegant. It’s an opportunity to remember the people we lost not only today but every day,” said Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager with City Hall. “We need your help in doing it.”
The wall will have at least 97 names, but people were encouraged to contact City Hall if they came across other individuals who needed to be added to the list.
The individual must have been a Santa Monica resident or have been born in Santa Monica, and must have died while in service during a time of war, in combat or otherwise.
They also qualify if they chose to be interred in Santa Monica.
While the outreach has focused on those who have died in past conflicts, it was lost on no one that the list could always grow.
The United States is still involved in what is now the country’s longest military conflict, although most troops are expected to leave Afghanistan as soon as 2014.
Suzanne Pritchard attended the event with Errol Grey, a therapy bird that she takes to visit veterans at hospitals and the local Veterans Administration campus.
Although she did not serve herself, several members of Pritchard’s family were in the military, and she sees her work with Errol as a way of giving back.
“I’m grateful to veterans,” Pritchard said.