A simple thank you inadequate on Memorial Day

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Dena McLean, second from left, of Lancaster says a prayer with her grandchildren at the gravesite of her father, William Carter, a Navy World War II veteran. McLean was at Lancaster Cemetery May 27 with her grandchildren to attend Memorial Day Services. Pictured with McLean are from left, Kasey O'Kray, 9, Ryley Bellanea, 15, Savanah Leonard, 7 and Wesley O'Kray, 5. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

With the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaching, nothing can sufficiently compensate the men and women who lost their lives defending in war the freedoms enjoyed by Americans; certainly nothing can repay the ongoing loss that those veterans’ families endure.

Nonetheless, each year community residents gather at Memorial Day ceremonies throughout the Antelope Valley and across the nation to offer their respect by remembering the military heroes — either people they knew or strangers — but all were members of the Armed Forces deployed to battlefields, never making it safely home.

This year, Antelope Valley Cemetery District Manager Dayle DeBry welcomed the early morning crowd gathered at the Lancaster Cemetery Veterans Court of Honor for a traditional and heartfelt program.

“We are gathered here this morning to remember and honor the men and women who have served this country in all branches of the military, here at home and in foreign lands, far away from their families and friends,” DeBry said.

“The flags that have been placed at each veteran’s grave represent our commitment as united Americans to remember the fallen. The flags symbolize our honor to those who have served this great nation,” DeBry said. “To our children, we want them to understand the freedoms we enjoy today and teach them that these freedoms have not come free but have come with a great cost.”

Members of the Antelope Valley Young Marines present colors during a Memorial Day service at Lancaster Cemetery, May 27. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

DeBry said she recently read an article about a 93-year-old World War II veteran in Los Angeles who recalled the day he landed in France, on D-Day June 6, 1944. He is making a documentary about the horrors he experienced. He echoed a quote from the president of the National World War II Museum that DeBry said resonated with her: “Every time a veteran dies a library burns.” That’s because once a veteran has passed, his stories are gone forever.

“We, as a community, should feel obligated to preserve the memory of the men and women from all wars and conflicts,” DeBry said, “many who paid the high cost of freedom with their lives.”

DeBry introduced keynote speaker Dennis Anderson, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a paratrooper from 1972 to 1975; currently a clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group; and a former editor of the Antelope Valley Press newspaper who continues to write a column focusing on veteran-related issues.

DeBry quoted Anderson as saying he is “passionate about military families and their wellbeing. As the father of a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and a military writer veteran, my concern is for anyone who has experienced trauma, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and adversity incoming home.”

When Anderson took the podium, he immediately demonstrated his dedication to veterans and their families by acknowledging the presence of all Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Parents.

Linda Bailey, left, with AV Blue Star Mothers places a memorial wreath on an American flag draped coffin during a Memorial Day service held May 27 at Lancaster Cemetery. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

Aside from his time spent as a paratrooper and a period traveling throughout the Middle East as a reporter writing about the ravages of war, Anderson panned the crowd of veterans and humbly said, “there are people here who have done a good deal more than I have.”

He recalled two paratroopers who died while he was in service and said he still remembers their names.

“I always wear my paratrooper hat,” Anderson said. While attending a recent event at the William J. Pete Knight Veterans Home in Lancaster, Anderson spoke with Sherman Blakeslee, a 94-year-old Navy veteran who had been stationed in the Pacific theater during World War II. Blakeslee noticed Anderson’s paratrooper hat and said, “My brother was better than me.”

Blakeslee told Anderson that his brother had been a paratrooper in World War II, killed in 1944 at age 21.

Anderson visited Normandy, France last year between Memorial Day and June 6 for the 100th anniversary of The Battle of Belleau Wood near the Marne River — a conflict that spanned nearly the entire month of June in 1918 during World War I.

“I had three great uncles who arrived in France at the end of that battle,” Anderson said. They participated as U.S. Marines in that fight. It also happened to be the 74th anniversary of D-Day in World War II, when at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, Allied forces under the leadership of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower landed on five beaches at Normandy to liberate France and the rest of North West Europe from Nazi occupation. Allied forces consisted of American, British and Canadian troops.

Karla Archuleta, left, with Antelope Valley Cemetery District rings a bell as AVCD manager, Dale DeBry reads off the names of fallen veterans during a Memorial Day service at Lancaster Cemetery, May 27. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

“If you’re a paratrooper that’s a big deal because the paratroopers played such a crucial role in D-Day,” Anderson said. “I wanted to see where they landed and pay my respects. It was very stirring, very emotional.”

The paratroopers caused problems for the Nazi defenders, providing better opportunity for the American troops entering from the beach to make their way onto the land and fight. Casualties among the German troops on D-Day, also known as Operation Overlord, have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000. Allied casualties numbered at least 10,000 with 4,414 confirmed dead. Of the five sites at Normandy where troops entered, Omaha sustained the greatest number of casualties because of its high cliffs.

Anderson would like to return this year for the 75th anniversary but said he won’t be able to make it. However, locally at a Cinemark 22 and IMAX, 2600 West Avenue I, Lancaster, there will be a special showing of “Saving Private Ryan” starring Tom Hanks in honor of D-Day at 3 p.m. on June 2 and at 7 p.m. on June 5. Tickets are $12.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors 62 and older, $11.50 for students with ID, and $10.50 for children 11 and younger. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door. For more information, call 661-940-7086.

Anderson’s son Garrett, a Marine, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Garrett Anderson returned home from Fallujah, but some members of his battalion didn’t make it. When they left Fallujah, 26 members of his battalion died in a helicopter crash over the Syrian border.

Keynote speaker and United States Army Veteran Dennis Anderson addresses a crowd gathered for a Memorial Day service at Lancaster Cemetery, May 27. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

“These losses are not vapor. They are not numbers,” Anderson said. “They are people like you and me.”

Antelope Valley Young Marines, led by Danny F. Chinchilla, USMC veteran, presented the Colors and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Donna Sweikow and Lisa Pittman singing the National Anthem. Dave Owens, chairman of the Cemetery District board of trustees, told the crowd Memorial Day is one of the cemeteries biggest annual events.

“I’m joining you as a daughter and granddaughter of veterans,” U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, told the crowd. She said there’s not a day when she walks through the halls of Congress that she doesn’t think about “those that gave for our liberties.” Hill also mentioned how many that do come home deal with emotional issues. “We lose more than 20 veterans a day to suicide.”

Men and women who served for us now need to be served by us, Hill said. “I share your grief and I share your gratitude.”

Drew Mercy attended on behalf of state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita. Chuck Bostwick, attended on behalf of Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger. Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, thanked everyone who attended the event, paying tribute to those who lost their lives. “When we start to forget is when we are in deep, deep trouble,” he noted.

Lancaster Councilman Ken Mann announced that the city has funded a sign to be constructed and posted at the corner of the Pete Knight Veterans Home. “We’ll never forget our veterans.” His father served as a ball turret gunner in World War II, a high-risk job with fatalities averaging one in five veterans. “I have all his military records. He kept hand-written records and pictures of all his missions.”

“I want to thank those families who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Lancaster Councilman Raj Malhi.

Keynote speaker and United States Army Veteran Dennis Anderson addresses a crowd gathered for a Memorial Day service at Lancaster Cemetery, May 27. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

“I don’t have any words that are adequate to express how appreciative I am,” said Bishop Henry Hearns, a former Lancaster mayor. “By the goodness of God I came back from the Korean War. I happen to be black, but I’m not proud because I’m black. I’m proud because I’m an American.”

“Our son was military,” said Lancaster resident Stan Ulvin, noting that Stuart Ulvin was in the security forces in the Air Force. He did two deployments. He was deployed to Kuwait and to Iraq.” His son returned and works now as an officer for the California Highway Patrol.

Ulvin’s wife Chris also comes from a military family. Her father died a few years ago but had a career in the Air Force that spanned more than 25 years. He flew 100 missions over North Vietnam.

In his invocation, Pastor Ken Gardner said Lord “we thank you for those who are serving, for the men and women willing to give their lives and who gave their lives. Lord give us hearts as generous as theirs.”