(Right) VFW member David Silva escorts VFW member Bill Florio as he places a wreath in remembrance to all Veterans during the Memorial Day Ceremonies

Memorial Day: Warriors who gave
their lives never to be forgotten

May 28, 2014
Santa Paula News

The annual Memorial Day observance brought what could be a record crowd to Santa Paula Pierce Brothers Cemetery Monday where Mercer-Prieto Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2043 and the Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 56 of Ventura County honored those who sacrificed all for their fellow Americans.

The flag decorated cemetery provided shuttle service and a hospitality area for the event, a community tradition in veteran proud Santa Paula. 

And many vets were in attendance: City Councilman Martin Hernandez, an Air Force veteran, didn’t let recent back surgery keep him away.

Hernandez said he was “humbled by and grateful to” those who died in war, and wouldn’t miss the formal ceremony noting their sacrifice.

Bob Hargarten was a Navy Commander who retired from service after a distinguished 30-year career.

Like most who served, Hargarten is modest about war experiences but his appreciation was obvious when VFW Commander Jerry Olivas noted, “To all the vets in the audience, not just those up here, thank you for your service.”

Commander  Olivas  welcomed other special guests - remaining council members and Police Chief Steve McLean and his family- and noted, “I want to thank and acknowledge all the VFW members here... we have several that are 90 and one will be 91 next month,” but they haven’t slowed down.

He also thanked cemetery manager Laura Cole and staff noting, “They really put their best foot forward,” for the event.

The Isbell Middle School Band under the direction of Scott Kneff also was thanked for their participation, as was Yamaguchi Flowers for their contributions of wreaths and other support Commander Olivas said they always offer the VFW and veterans.

Scouts, both boys and girls, decorated the cemetery with the hundreds flags that lined each road: “They were here at 7 this morning and they did a fantastic job,” said Commander Olivas, who joked, “I hope they’re here at 8 a.m. tomorrow to take them down!”

Father Charles Lueras of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, a Viet Nam era veteran, offered the innovcation, noting during his own service he visited the Alamo in Texas. 

All who died in war defending America did so “for a purpose, for a reason,” and paved the way for all to enjoy freedom.

Commander Olivas said the Memorial Day ceremony “Is exclusively for those who died in service, and as a community we remember and honor all veterans, but especially those who died for us.”

Decorating the graves of those killed in battle is an ancient custom and the beginning of the Memorial Day tradition of floral tributes for lost loved ones.

The annual VFW service is held in front of the Grand Army of the Republic Monument and Commander Olivas spoke of the organization’s devotion to those who served and died that started right after the Civil War. Although now defunct, the GAR’s dedication that those who died in battle “always be remembered and honored” remains.

“Sadly,” said Commander Olivas, “many who died,” did so on far away battlefields, or at sea, and “did not receive a military burial... “ 

The Mercer-Prieto VFW is renowned for its military memorial services for those who served, “A ritual... and the honors we provide consists of many wonderful words,” including a Chaplain and Commander’s tribute, “an eulogy to that veteran... the defender of our country and our flag.”

Veterans’ services also include the presentation of the flag to loved ones with words of comfort and thanks.

“We preserve the memory of their service and sacrifice,” said the commander.

VFW Quartermaster/Adjutant Rey Frutos oversaw the Placing of the Wreaths and Floyd Griffith sang “God Bless America” a’cappella, including the rarely heard prelude. 

“He has a beautiful voice, doesn’t he?” said Hargarten.

Griffith later sang “America the Beautiful” for the appreciative crowd.

VFW’s Carlos Lopez recited “Freedom Isn’t Free” a poetic tribute to those that serve by an unknown author and Dr. George Golden, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fillmore gave the closing prayer.

Jerry Garcia released his Heavenly Doves and as the white formation flew overhead Commander Olivas thanked Garcia for his strong support, noting, “Heavenlydoves.net - I figured we’d give him a commercial!”

The Salute of Departed Comrades directed by David Garcia by the combined VFW and KWVA Chapter 56 Rifle Squad sounded the volleys, and combined post bugler Rudy Arellano played the poignant “Taps”.

Commander Olivas said this year’s program was adding something new: “Today we’re going to lower and raise the flag to full mast, usually done at noon,” but done earlier by Frutos while the Memorial Day crowd was still present, an added tribute to those who sacrificed their all for others.

Rudy Arellano plays “taps” at the end of the Memorial Day Service held at the Santa Paula Cemetery

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