Santa Barbara remembers the fallen on Memorial Day
A saying defines a veteran as “someone who at one point in their life wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount up to and including their life.”
On Monday, about 1,000 people gathered for a Memorial Day ceremony at Santa Barbara Cemetery to collectively remember those who died in service, those who paid the country with their lives.
The Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation event featured the Santa Barbara Choral Society, which sang the words, “We are the land of the free because of the brave.”
One of the brave is retired Marine Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley, but he may rename the song to give value to leadership and technology in addition to the brave.
Sgt. Maj. Canley received the Medal of Honor last year for his actions in 1968 in Vietnam, and he was a special guest at the PCVF Memorial Day ceremony.
At the time of his service, he said, leadership was “mediocre at best” and the technology was “substandard.”
“Today, it doesn’t matter who they fight, the Marines will never ever lose,” Sgt. Maj. Canley said. “The reason for that is that it’s in their hearts.”
The latest technology, of course, also helps what is in the hearts. Sgt. Major Canley said, “The equipment that the Marines have today is the best in the world, the best money can buy.”
Even with the technology, casualties continue to occur. After the ceremony, Dulce Soto brought flowers to the tomb of her son, Jaime Rodriguez, who died during service in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Jaime was one of about 4,500 lives lost in the Iraq conflict from March 19. 2003 to Aug. 31, 2010, in the Arabian Sea, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Red Sea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the Department of Defense.
The service members who lost their lives did not die in vain, said Air Force Col. Philip Conran.
Col. Conran considers those who died in service to the U.S. as “those who gave their lives so that we may live in this fantastic society.” Col. Conran admitted that “it’s not perfect” but fantastic nevertheless.
In this imperfect and fantastic society, one group is helping those who served – Honor Flight Central Coast California, a nonprofit organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., on “Honor Tours” through military monuments and memorials. The trips are free of charge to the veterans.
The group has flown more than 300 veterans to Washington since 2014, said Jay Conner, Honor Flight representative and Vietnam veteran.
Bear McGill, president of the Honor Flight board, told the News-Press that there are typically three trips a year. The next one is in September, and veterans and their guardians can sign up on https://www.honorflightccc.org/ or call 805-610-4012.
Monday’s ceremony ended with a poem penned by the Rev. Denis Edward O’Brien, U.S. Marine Corps.
“It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press.
“It is the soldier, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech.
“It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
“It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.”