Memorial Day recognized at events Valley-wide

Members of the American Legion Riders stand at attention as they bear flags during a Memorial Day ceremony held May 27 at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Palmdale. From left: Frank Serrano, Mike Turowski, Robert Aguilar, Art Velador Jr., Jerry Wickliffe and Alan Barclay. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

While Memorial Day events at some sites in the Antelope Valley maintained a somewhat formal approach, other places like Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Palmdale were more laid back, giving way to a relaxed, yet still somber atmosphere.

In fact, Memorial Day at Desert Lawn, presented by the Antelope Valley Service Organization Association and the city’s Recreation & Culture Department, resembled a class history lesson. The AV Service Organization Association formed in 1994 when the city joined forces with several local service organizations aimed at promoting community involvement as well as recognizing and paying tribute to area men and women who served or are serving this country.

The Memorial Day service kicked off late Monday morning with Maj. Conrad Hernandez, Highland High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC commander, serving as master of ceremonies.

“We are gathered to remember those that have fallen — soldiers, sailors, Marines,” Hernandez told the crowd. “Some we flew with. Some we were in a fox hole with. They all served under the same flag.”

Hernandez said World War II veterans served under a flag that had 48 stars — one for each state. The Betsy Ross flag had 13 stars arranged in a circle to represent the original colonies. Today’s flag has 50 stars, a change that occurred after two more states joined the union.

Highland High School Air Force Junior ROTC cadet,Amaya Vasquez, right, performs a POW MIA Table of Honor ceremony with her fellow cadets during a Memorial Day service held at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Palmdale, May 27. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

After students from Highland High School’s ROTC presented the Colors for the Pledge of Allegiance, Gary Bassett, chaplain for American Legion Post 348, recited the invocation, which focused more of on an ongoing debate about the first city that started Memorial Day celebrations.

This is “the true story behind the first Memorial Day,” Bassett said. In January 1866, the Ladies Memorial Association in Columbus, Ga., passed a motion agreeing that they would designate a day to throw flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers buried at the cemetery. That information was provided on an Internet site which quoted Richard Gardiner, an associate professor of history at Columbus State University in Georgia. Gardiner also co-authored a book, “The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday,” published in 2014.

Supposedly the date that the women in Georgia settled on for flowers to be tossed on soldiers’ graves was April 26, 1866. But folks in Columbus, Miss., claimed that they originated the concept of a Memorial Day holiday, and their date was April 25, 1866 — one day ahead of the Georgia group. Gardiner claimed confusion developed because newspaper editors that ran the story “fudged the date.”

Gardiner said Columbus, Miss., may have celebrated Memorial Day first, but “what’s not true is that they came up with the idea. Some people still trumpet the claim, including the village of Waterloo (Georgia) itself.”

Vietnam War Army veteran, Larry Butgereit of Juniper Hills, salutes as he pays his respects to fallen veterans during a Memorial Day service held at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Palmdale, May 27. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

In the 1880s, a reporter interviewed a source who thought that Waterloo celebrated the day in 1866, according to Gardiner. The newspaper later ran a correction saying Waterloo celebrated in 1868. The problem? Not every newspaper that ran the original story picked up the correction, leaving some people believing that Waterloo was first.

Meanwhile, David Blight, a history professor at Yale University, contends that the first Memorial Day happened in Charleston, S.C., based on a report in the New York Times. On May 1, 1865, workmen honored and buried dead soldiers from the Union Army at a racetrack that had been turned into a war prison, Blight told the New York Times.

There’s no evidence that event sparked the national holiday, Gardiner reasoned. “People have honored dead soldiers and decorated their graves since the beginning of time.”

Based on information from the Veterans Administration, at least 25 cities across the nation lay claim to originating the Memorial Day holiday.

In many conflicts, Hernandez said, some of our men and women have not returned. They were listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action. “To this day, we wait for them to return.”

Members of Highland High School’s ROTC presented the Table of Honor. “We have not forgotten their sacrifice.”
* The table is small, signifying the frailty of one veteran alone against a group of enemies.
* The Bible stands for a symbol of our faith.
* A black napkin shows the emptiness these warriors left in the hearts of family and friends.
* A yellow candle and yellow ribbon indicate everlasting hope for a joyous reunion.
* Salt on the bread plate represents the tears of their families.

Marcy Velador, center, with the Palmdale Post 348 Auxiliary is accompanied by Joanna Jimenez, left, and Yllianna Velador, as she places a memorial wreath in front of an American flag at a Memorial Day service held at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Palmdale, May 27. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, introduced state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita; Donna Termeer, field deputy for Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger; Palmdale Councilman Richard Loa; and Palmdale Councilman Austin Bishop.

“They stormed the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima,” said Pastor Carl Hernandez, commander of American Legion Post 348. “Every day is Memorial Day for our heroes. They served our nation with honor and courage. They must never be forgotten. Their duties are done. They stand down and rest in peace.”

“On this Memorial Day we must remember the families,” said Bob Ventroni, leading knight at Elks Lodge 2027.

Herbert Poindexter returned home after he was identified through DNA, Ventroni said.

Herbert Joseph Poindexter Jr., a sailor from Florida, worked as a barber on the battleship USS Oklahoma when it was hit by enemy forces on Dec. 7, 1941 — during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two weeks after the attack a telegram from the military notified his mother that her 24-year-old son was missing. In February, a second telegram arrived informing his mother that the military tried, but could not locate her son, so he was officially declared deceased.

Members of the Palmdale Veterans Honor Guard perform a 21-gun salute to fallen veterans during a Memorial Day ceremony held at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Palmdale, May 27. From left: Chris Ponce, Carl Hernandez, Ralph Velador, Rick Ruiz, Mark LeFave, George Martinez and Joshua Hopper. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

Poindexter and 428 other men were killed on the Oklahoma. More than 2,400 Americans died in the Pearl Harbor attack. With the latest technology, scientists in September 2018 got a DNA match for Poindexter’s remains and now, more than 77 years after he died, he will be buried at a cemetery in Jacksonville, Fla., — his hometown.

Ventroni said that a relative also died on the Oklahoma and he saw his Aunt Mary receive those same two telegrams. Families that lost a military hero “carry the pride and the sadness throughout their lives.”

“Why do we remember?” asked Matt Jackson, commander of VFW Post 3552. “Because sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. Far too often the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms won by the sacrifice of others.”

As the rituals wound down, the ceremony at Desert Lawn ended with a 21-gun salute and the playing of TAPS.

Carl Hernandez, commander of Palmdale American Legion Post 348, left, addresses a crowd gathered for Memorial Day at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Palmdale, May 27. Pictured with Hernandez is Highland High School Air Force Junior ROTC Commander, Maj. Conrad Hernandez. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)