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Yesterday’s M.V. Memorial Day ceremony at the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center, attended by over 350 residents and neighbors, was by far the largest ceremony in our 22 years of being a city. With a cloud free blue sky, and our flag waving at half mast, there was no excuse for others from this city of 100,000 not to spend 90 minutes to show their appreciation to those who came back as well as the many who made the ultimate sacrifice. As a regular attendee at these annual events I noticed the small turnouts on Memorial Day prior to the fighting in Iraq. However during these past few years the program continues to draw more visitors as we now have troops on deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just this past week we learned of our 1,000th military death since the conflict commenced in Afghanistan.
We listened to opening remarks from congressman Gary Miller who was followed by Colonel Michael S. Groen, Commanding Officer USMC HQ Battalion, First Marine Division who will be transferred to Quantico, VA.
Chris Yates, American Heroes Tribute Director, dedicated their latest banner in honor of USMC Gunnery Sgt. Shawn A. Lane who was KIA on July 28, 2004 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. “Gunny” served in both Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Shawn was assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California.
We learned from AHT spokesperson Debra Gomez that each family provides their choice of photo and personal sentiments that appear on each of these 3 feet by 9 feet unique American Hero banners.
During the closing rifle salute by the VFW Post 6024 we heard 3 car alarms go off.
My focus, as it should be, will be on those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the recent conflicts in which a group of volunteers, American Heroes Tribute, AHT, want to keep their memories alive. Their goal is to provide a banner for each service person killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of now this 501 C-3 non-profit group has displayed 220 banners.
Around 50 of their banners are currently on display between the Mission Viejo Library and our city hall. Council Member Cathy Schlicht and I visited that display after the ceremony to read the comments from these families.
At the MV City hall site Cathy and I stopped to read many of the banners. The youngest servicemen honored were both 19 years from the US Army. Spc. Samuel Sungjune Lee and Spc. Ivan E. Merlo. The oldest service member banners on display today were two members of the Army National Guard. Patrick R. Mc Caffrey, 34 and Spc Timothy C. Kiser, 37.
The banner that caught my attention was of USMC Lcpl Francisco A. Martinez-Flores. This 21 year old marine from Duarte, CA. gave his life on March 25, 2003.
His banner contains the following sentiments as provided by his family:
“A loving son, brother and friend. He was to become a U.S. citizen in two weeks but was killed before he could take the oath for the country he died fighting for, thanks, Pancho. You have given us the greatest gift in your sacrifice. You are our nation’s hero.”
As this is a Memorial Day story I will not engage in the citizenship debate other than to say that Pancho died for our country half a world away from his home.
For more information on AHT, or to make a donation, simply go to their web site.