Text/photos by D. Grava
In a world largely overtaken by pragmatism and the pursuit of tangibles, one is often prompted to ask: Are heroes still relevant? What is it that motivates people to respond unhesitatingly to the call of duty?
Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alarcon, a former member of both the California Assembly and Senate, put it this way: "Would we dive on an exploding grenade to save a friend?" We hope we don't have to be confronted with that life-threatening decision, the city official said, but, yes, many still would do that. There are still among us who would sacrifice "to give us a reason to write a speech, to upgrade our way of life, and for the realization of dreams and future successes."
Alarcon was paying tribute to a native son during an 11 a.m. Memorial Day service at the San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in Sylmar that included a flag rising and rifle salute by the All Veterans Burial Squad. It also featured the laying of a brick paving engraved with the words "Brave of Heart Rowan D. Walter Iraq War Hero 2/23/04." Walter died in the battlefield when he threw his body over an exploding grenade to save fellow soldiers.
An hour past noon in Forest Lawn-Glendale, another hero was in focus. Col. Roger H. C. Donlon, while still a Green Beret captain, won the first Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. Glendale Mayor John Drayman read the President Bush proclamation of Memorial Day and Civil War reenactors from the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry-Company K followed with a firing of their muskets.
It is a sobering thought that even as we reminisce and undertake the yearly rites of honoring our gallant dead, we continue to bury fresh casualties of ongoing conflicts. The unfortunate, painful reality of war that have killed more than 4,000 Americans in the Iraq and Afghanistan fronts is a continuing legacy that have seen more than 10,000 casualties on June 6, 1944 trying to breach the Nazi beachhead during Operation Overlord, the thousands of deaths in the Pacific and other segments of WWII, and millions of others who died or were wounded during America's involvement in WWI, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and other such bloody engagements in the past.
It is said that America was forged in blood and tears and today Americans continue to bear the heavy burden of financing and dying in conflicts elsewhere in the world. One often wonders how a country that invest so much on its youth could bear to send the same youth to undertake the extreme hardships and risk the uncertainties inherent with armed hostilities.
On the other hand America's leadership role in the democratic world in effect tremendously burdened it with the cross of moral ascendancy to oversee a tumultuous world. It may be that this country is under no obligation to impose its gospel of righteousness to other people and nations. But, in the words of Councilman Alarcon, ours is not a perfect world and someone has to shoulder the thankless job of making sure that there will be less Auschwitzes and Buchenwalds and Rwandas on planet earth now and in the future.
SALUTE TO HEROES: John S. Arroyo, a war veteran, renders a salute as LA Councilman Richard Alarcon reads a tribute to local heroes.
GLENDALE EVENT: The Richmond Howitzers Unit did a couple of salvos while bagpipers in kilts prepare to perform. Below, Medal of Honor holder Col. Roger Donlon and uniformed reenactors lay a wreath at the burial site of a Civil War soldier.
MEMORIALIZING AN ACT OF COURAGE: Hailey Cohen, right, prepares to insert a brick paver memorializing her brother Rowan Walter who died in Iraq while shielding with his body fellow soldiers from an exploding grenade.
REMEMBERING, HONORING: Red roses embellish a marker at the McCambridge Park War Memorial in Burbank as locals prepare for the yearly ceremony. Similar events were held at the Moorpark Veterans Memorial and at the Veterans Memorial Grove, Moorpark; at Glendale-Montrose-Crescenta Valley Veterans Memorial in Montrose; at the Lancaster Cemetery in the Antelope Valley; at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, Westwood; at Valley Oaks Memorial Park, Westlake Village; at Desert Lawn Memorial Park, Palmdale; at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Simi Valley. Also held was a commemorative concert at Conejo Community Park, Thousand Oaks, and a parade with military flyovers, color guards, marching bands, equestrians and others in Canoga with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as grand marshal.
INSPIRATION: This fixture at the Santa Monica Beach, the so-called Arlington of the West, brings recollection of a verse learned long ago -- apt for a tribute to those brave men and women who perished that we may live in freedom and liberty.:We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
-- From "In Flanders Fields"
By John McCrae (1872-1918)