AMVETS, VFW hold Annual Memorial Day Program to honor veterans
Countless veterans, families and community members gathered at the Goleta Cemetery on the cloudy, drizzly Memorial Day morning — some dressed in uniform, some in plain clothing, some in celebration, some rather solemn.
They met on what one speaker called “holy, hallowed, sacred ground.”
Numerous cars lined the cemetery roads Monday for the Annual Memorial Day Program, presented by AMVETS Santa Barbara Post 3 and VFW Post 1649.
The event began with the presentation of the colors by the Civil Air Patrol Squadron 131 Cadet Color Guard, followed by the National Anthem sung by Elizabeth Rose Bryson; an invocation from Ronnie Shahbazian, chaplain of AMVETS Post 3; and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by a second-grader at Summerland Elementary — Sage Henson.
This event joined many others in Santa Barbara County to honor the fallen men and women, including ceremonies at the Carpinteria Cemetery, the Solvang Veterans Memorial Hall, the Santa Maria Cemetery, the Pine Grove Cemetery in Orcutt and the Guadalupe Cemetery.
Drew Wakefield, director of sales and marketing for the Ramada Santa Barbara and a motivational speaker, was the first speaker at Goleta’s ceremony.
He told the many gathered at the top of the hill that “we collectively stand on holy, hallowed, sacred ground.”
“We have had great men and women, sons and daughters, uncles and aunts that have died for our country while in the line of service. They were laid to rest here,” Mr. Wakefield said. “Today is Memorial Day, where we will memorialize them, we will honor them, we will think of them, we will say their names, because that is why we are here today.”
Attendees applauded stories of war and heroism, sang along to “Proud to Be an American,” hummed to the bagpipes, hugged their spouses and children, waved American flags and saluted their fellow veterans as the breeze billowed the red, white and blue flags against the gray sky.
Mr. Wakefield spoke to the importance of imparting the courage and nobility of the greatest generation on the younger generations of today. He explained he was concerned that children today “are not thinking about what Memorial Day is — they’re too busy consumed with playing games.”
“If we do not come out on these beautiful Monday mornings with the May gray, where will our youngsters be in a few more years? Who will they remember? Who will they talk about?” he said. “One thing I do know, and it is sad but true: They are not teaching the type of history that I wish they would, of ‘Honor America,’ of ‘Make America great,’ of ‘America is the greatest country on the face of the Earth.’
“They need to be talking and sharing and teaching our young people more about Memorial Day and what it stands for, about what our brave men and women stood for and gave their lives for.”
Retired Command Sgt. Major Jonathan Church was elected post commander for VFW Post 1649 for the 2021-22 term of office. He emceed the Memorial Day event, as a veteran who was deployed to Iraq, Bosnia, Germany, South Korea and other sites throughout the continental U.S.
“It (Memorial Day) is a lot more than just barbecues and a long weekend. It’s more than just a holiday. It’s a day for us to remember those who served our country that didn’t have the opportunity to be here,” Command Sgt. Major Church told the News-Press. “Those veterans — if they had not fought for us, we may not have this day. We owe them our freedom; we owe them all the things that we take for granted.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. This is a very special day to remember that.”
The crowd in Goleta enjoyed an Armed Forces Medley and “Amazing Grace” played by bagpiper Bill Boetticher and “Taps” played by Robert Burtness and Howard Hudson, both members of Buglers Across America. Various organizations presented wreaths, and Staff Sgt. Mark Thies and Command Sgt. Major Church held the roll call.
Veterans shared how deep the tradition of service runs in their families.
Ed Montanez, a VFW trustee and a former Navy corporal in the Marine Corps, told the News-Press that Memorial Day is a day for him to celebrate his dad, godfather and three of his uncles who served in World War II, his older cousins who served in Korea, his cousins who served in Vietnam, and his son and grandson who served in the military.
“All of that history since World War II, honoring them and recognizing them — it’s something that you put a lot of energy into,” he said.
Fred Cota, the junior vice commander of the VFW, said he came from a big Santa Barbara family. His grandfather served in World War I.
“We would go to the cemetery, and he (his grandfather) had a big station wagon full of flowers to ‘Say hi to all our relatives,’” Mr. Cota told the News-Press.
As each attendee paid respects to veterans they knew or never got to know, as tears were shed, hands were shaken and hugs were given, Goleta Mayor Pro Tempore James Kyriaco pointed out the role many wives and other women played in the war efforts over the years.
“They had to raise the next generation, too, and sometimes they had to do it while they worked in factories building the bombers that their husbands, boyfriends and brothers flew,” he said. “The women of Memorial Day should never be forgotten.”
Local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Daughters of the Union Vets joined the various branches of the military and military organizations in being recognized Monday morning in the presentation of the wreaths.
“The best way we can honor our dead is not just with words, but with renewed commitment to our fellow community members that reflects the ideals of this community and the nation they fought for,” Mayor Pro Tempore Kyriaco said. “Let us honor their sacrifices by doing good works for others who are less fortunate, and in doing so, we lift ourselves up, we lift communities up, we lift our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren up into fuller view for those who are looking down from up above — so that they can smile and know in their hearts, ‘Yes, it was worth it.’”
Mr. Wakefield reminded all those standing and saluting in front of him to say the names of those who paid the ultimate price for not only the freedom of Americans, but the freedom of countries all over the globe.
“Will we continue to say their names, or will we just go by and think it’s a political holiday because they put it on a Monday because they want a three-day weekend?” he asked. “In America, on Memorial Day, we memorialize, we respect, we honor, we say their names, we do not forget the men and women, the sons and daughters, uncles and aunts that paved the way, that not only served but did not get to come back for a barbecue.”
The speaker referenced the Bible when he spoke about the bravery in each man and woman who went to fight.
“John 15:13 simply says this, ‘Greater love hath no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Think about our American soldiers, some willing, some not-so-willing, some knowing, some not-so-knowing that they would join into our military and give up their lives, not just for friends during combat when they fought side-by-side, but were willing to give their lives for others around the world, other countries, other lands, other continents …
“Never forget. No, never ever forget.”