While most people were enjoying a long weekend or making plans for a barbecue heading to the lakes, a number of Ceres residents took an hour to remember those for whom the day was meant: Those who gave up their lives defending the country in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The event, held at 10 a.m., was staged by Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion posts of Ceres and drew remarks by Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith, Vice Mayor Bret Durossette and Channce Condit representing state Assemblyman Adam Gray.
Chaplain Pasquale "Pat" Sobotka gave the invocation in which he asked God to comfort the families who mourn the loss of loved ones and for others to remember "the beloved lives of their loved ones."
"Father, may peace throughout the world be our goal and to help us be ever vigilant in guarding the blessings that you have bestowed upon us," prayed Sobotka. "We ask you to give guidance to our leaders each day that reflect your divine will, to place our comforts in you in all things as we remember your promise to be with us, even until the end of the age."
Vice Mayor Durossette said the day was more than a federal holiday and a day to barbecue and set up picnic tables, "but it is also not a day of pure sadness and solemnity. Memorial Day is both a remembrance of and the celebration of the people whose actions have allowed me, you, and our way of life to flourish."
He noted how Memorial Day was called Decoration Day following the Civil War in which approximately 620,000 Americans died. Durossette noted that over one million Americans have fallen since Memorial Day started being observed. "How do we repay them? How do we thank them? How can we pay homage to those who gave so much?" he asked. "Maybe the answer is in how we conduct our lives, run our democracy and support those who continue to defend us. Maybe by living in a country that preserves freedom, seeks kindness and supports prosperity is all we can do to honor them. Maybe that is not enough for someone to perish for these ideas. Could be that we serve our community, create a world where we can live the way we wish, none less for those who served in World War I, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Iraq War and all those other conflicts Americans engaged in. We must continue to immortalize the lives they lived."
Durossette quoted General George S. Patton who said: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
Chief Smith said it was because of the sacrifice of brave men and women "that we have inherited the greatest nation on this planet."
He quoted America's 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, who said in a May 30, 1891 speech: "I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did."
Channce Condit asked the crowd to remember "our fallen with the pride that they shared with one another. Let us remember our fallen with the selfless act of service for our fellow countryman. Let us remember our fallen as they truly deserve to be - as patriots."
He served those who died fought and stood for an idea "that is bigger than themselves" and "an idea that we must continue to fight and protect - the idea and promise of America as our most sacred treasure and those who fought and died are its protectors."
After a 21-gun salute by the VFW honor guard, and an explanation of the 13 folds of a memorial flag, the program gave audience members a chance to place a small poppy into a memorial wreath and call out the name of a loved one who served the country in the Armed Forces. Some who came forward included World War II Marine veteran Jack Marshall, who remembered fallen comrade Art Gagney; Mildred Lucas, who remembered her late husband Grant Lucas, a paratrooper over France; VFW Commander James Coverick, who placed poppies in memory of his grandfather who fought in World War II, his father who was a Pearl Harbor survivor and his brother who was in the Air Force and passed away two weeks ago. Bettye Welsh also showed up, remembering her late husband and war hero Gene Welsh.
"It's very special to us, always has been," said Welsh of Memorial Day. "Now we have a grandson (Nick Welsh) in Afghanistan."
Towards the end of the program, a "final roll call" was given of veterans from the area who in the last few years answered their final roll call. Names that were read of former VFW and American Legion post members in Ceres, followed by the pronouncement of "no answer" and the ringing of a bell, were: Frank Bilisteri, Harold "Buzz" Johnson, Joseph Brocco, Billy Boyd, Grant Lucas, Lloyd Soroggins, Lesley Reile, Vernon Whorton, William Sweet, Patrick Griffin, Leroy Topie, James Maxey, Hershell Young, Ivan Rhuga, Allen Youngblood, Thomas Camden, George Lake, Gary Allen Rose, Kurt Caudill, Robert Welborn, Terri Hinkle, James Wood, James Reeves, Ernesto Lara, William Thompson, Rosilio Michelle, Donald Bell and Mario Munoz.
Steve Whitney, commander of the American Legion post 491, said he was a Marine Corps diesel mechanic teacher at Camp Pendleton during the Vietnam War. The former police officer commented that many of the men he trained "probably did not come back."
He commented that many younger Americans don't appreciate the meaning of Memorial Day but noted with the war on terror, many of the current generation have served in the Middle East.
"Still, look at how many people don't vote," said Whitney, "that kind of tells you the same people probably don't have any respect for veterans and for what's been done to keep us free. I mean, that's one of the things we all fought for is the right for freedom and democracy. And it's just amazing how many people don't vote."