By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY – Staff Writer
The last Monday in May was set aside in 1971 as Memorial Day to honor those who never returned from the wars by giving up their lives to protect the freedoms of this country. This service to honor those men and women who died in the defense of America was held at the San Moritz Lodge in Crestline at 11 a.m. on May 29, 2023. Americans owe a debt to those soldiers.
Those involved in the service were Joe Aquino of the Crestline Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post #9624 and Nicholas Nerio from American Legion Post # 360, with Bill Mellinger of the Crestline First Baptist Church and guest speakers Craig Swanson and Eddie Romero.
Those who died in the defense of our nation were honored during the ceremony, along with those who returned but were never the same again, and those whose whole lives were affected by being in the war. Every time a service member is lost, their entire family is also affected forever as their loss leaves a hole in the entire family for generations.
Master of Ceremonies for the day was Pastor Bill Mellinger, who led the audience in singing the Star Spangled Banner. The military color guard from The American Legion consisted of Allen Russel, Larry Philippi, Rodney Gainer, and Lou Norring. The filled house at the San Moritz Lodge was resplendent in reciting the pledge of allegiance together, followed by singing with gusto of the Star-Spangled Banner. “We gather today to remember those who were lost, including those who are still MIA, 81,000 of them, and it breaks my heart. It is estimated about 40,000 of them were lost at sea, never to return,” said Mellinger.
Guest speaker Craig Swanson spoke about American naval hero John Paul Jones and the battle leading to his famous quote of “I have not yet begun to fight,” when asked to surrender. He went on to defeat his enemy in that battle. He was a Scotsman who was recognized as a hero by both the French and Americans, but, when buried years later, his cemetery was not kept up. Over 100 years later, Horace Porter made it his mission to bring John Paul Jones’ body to America, and his body was paraded in both France and America for a hero’s burial and the respect he deserved.
The next speaker, VFW post Commander Joe Aquino, said Memorial Day began as Decoration Day to honor the 600,000 men who died in the Civil War when General Logan asked the pubic to observe the dead by decorating their graves. After WWI and WWII, Decoration Day was expanded in scope to be inclusive in honoring those war dead, too. The Memorial Day holiday weekend was established in May of 1971 and includes all who have given their lives for this country. He shared his experiences after being drafted, while in boot camp and his experiences with his drill sergeant, recalling his last comment to him, “When I get back from Vietnam, I’m coming back to get you,” he said. His sergeant’s reply was “I hope you do.” He ended with a comment to those veterans in the audience. “I thank you all today for coming back and for honoring those who didn’t.”
Then, Mellinger led the audience in singing the military theme songs for all branches of the service. He had those veterans from each branch stand while their song was sung by audience members.
Nathan Godwin explained the MIA (Missing in Action) “Empty Table,” which was set up in the front of the room. It is usually found in every mess hall to remember those not there. The empty table is set with a white tablecloth. Red roses are to remember family, set with food in hope they’ll come home, lemon for the bitterness, salt represents uncertainty, while the glass is set upside down for the one not here and the candle is a beacon to lead them to come home.
One quilt of honor was presented this last week to Darrell, who is in the hospital. The Quilts of Valor program began in Washington, DC and are given to the living in honor of those who have gone before. So far over 350,000 have been presented nationwide and over 180 have been sewn and presented on the mountain. A story was shared about the family of Anthony Armstrong and how the Quilts of Valor program changed the dynamics of their lives after Armstrong’s death by the presentation of the quilts to the children.
Two Quilts of Honor were presented by Dr. Ginger Gabriel to Mathew Lee Fleming and Laurence Christie. Dr. Gabriel told the story of Mathew Fleming who was drafted in 1966, and already serving in Vietnam in 67, and returned with many medals. He was wrapped in his quilt by Godwin and Gabriel.
Lawrence Christie, who has survived cancer and taught school for 35 years, authored a book, “The Veteran”, in 2018 on his first year in the army in Vietnam. He received a Bronze Star for his military service. He mostly overcame his PTSD after receiving cognitive therapy and recommended it for others.
Speaker Michael Brewer, who was a combat squad leader in the Marine Corps, spoke on how best to honor the Veterans with a month of silence, which he also explained in last week’s Alpine Mountaineer newspaper.
Taps was performed by Alexander De Leon, a 2022 Rim High graduate, who received numerous musical awards last year when graduating from Rim.
The benediction was given by Reverend Greg Robertson, with the reminder that “Our freedom has a cost and we honor those who gave up their lives to allow us to live in a free country.”
The colors were retired and the audience was invited to partake of cookies and refreshments. The Crest Forest Senior Citizens’ Club was thanked for hosting the Memorial Day service again this year and for providing the refreshments.
Afterwards, old, tattered flags were retired in a formal retirement ceremony at the VFW Post #9624 hall in Cedarpines Park that afternoon.