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A Day to remember those who gave all

LANCASTER, Calif. — At a time of national distrust, discord and division, there was no doubt or confusion as to why nearly 200 people came together at Lancaster District Cemetery Memorial Day morning. They gathered to remind other Americans of something too often forgotten.

From the Pledge to the Anthem, to the prayers, ceremonies and speeches, there could be no confusion as to why Memorial Day is time for remembrance, not a celebration with fireworks, barbecues and half-off sales. Memorial Day began informally to reunify the nation in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Navy veteran Phil Roberts and Dayle DeBry, Cemetery District Manager conduct the traditional Bell Ceremony, remembering the 19 local veterans who died or were interred after Memorial Day 2021. (Courtesy photograph)

That history was remembered in the May 30, 2022, invocation delivered by Bishop and Lancaster Mayor Emeritus, the Rev. Henry Hearns. A U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War, Hearns said he remembers growing up at a time when being a Black American was a disadvantage. Yet Hearns said he thanks God for being born here and for the blessings of being an American.

Hearns said of those who paid the ultimate price for America, “Have left their footprints on our sands of time.”

Chris Parke, in full traditional military regalia of a Highland Regiment piper, brought home the message that Memorial Day transcends nationalities. He told of the thousand Scottish pipers killed in World War I, when armed only with bagpipes, led troops over the top of trenches, playing their marches in the face of machine gun fire.

Parke first played “America the Beautiful” honoring America’s war dead, followed by “Amazing Grace,” a tribute to all those allies who never returned.

Bringing Memorial Day history and traditions into the fresh and painful realm of contemporary life, Five Blue Star/Military Mothers, Jessica Mellick, Colleen Goodman, Kathleen Staats and Ida Ketchum, placed red, white and blue wreaths in a ceremony conducted with a uniformed formation of young members of Marine Corps League, AV Detachment 930.

Navy veteran Phil Roberts and Dayle DeBry, Cemetery District Manager conducted a traditional Bell Ceremony, remembering the 19 local veterans who died or were interred after Memorial Day 2021.

Keynote Speaker Augie Anderson, Air Force veteran and AV Wall Gold Star Ambassador, presented a moving and emotionally charged first-person reflection on loss, grief, redemption from grief and recovery.

As a 12-year-old in 1967, he was playing touch football in the street near his home when a military staff car came to the house. A bit later, Augie’s father told Augie that he wouldn’t be seeing his elder brother again. Anderson said he didn’t immediately understand, since his brother, Richard, a Marine Corps sergeant, was finishing his tour of duty in Vietnam and was expected home within a few days. The brother he never saw again was killed in action in South Vietnam, Nov. 19, 1967.

Consumed by grief and anger at the loss, Anderson said he enlisted in the Air Force and made South Vietnam his top choice for first duty station. And then he hit a life-changing wall. He said the training instructor denied Anderson’s assignment wish, explaining, ‘Your mom’s been dragged through hell once already.’ The T.I. was not going to let that happen again.

Bringing Memorial Day history and traditions into the fresh and painful realm of contemporary life, Five Blue Star/Military Mothers, Jessica Mellick, Colleen Goodman, Kathleen Staats and Ida Ketchum, placed red, white and blue wreaths. (Courtesy photograph)

Anderson told the gathering that Edwards Air Force Base was his final duty station, but a few years later he returned to work there in a civilian capacity. It was in 1997, he said, that on a chance visit to an AV Mall store he a framed print of the Vietnam Memorial Wall painting, “Reflections.” Anderson said that for the first time he saw in that artwork his brother’s name etched there, along with the more than 58,000 others who never came home to live out their lives.

Armstrong pointed out that the Gold Star is “an honor no one wants to have,” and the title is worn by many. Mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents.

Summing it up before the trumpet sounded “TAPS,” Cemetery Board Chairman Dave Owens read the poem he composed when a war veteran was to be laid to rest with no friends or family to be present. That would not happen at Lancaster District Cemetery, where more than 1,066 military veterans are at rest. Between Owens, 95-year-old World War II Marine Corps veteran Pat Murray and a high school Junior ROTC cadet, the funeral was conducted with honors that now assure no veteran’s last rites go unwitnessed or unremembered.

And the poem concludes:

“An American veteran is at rest today

And we may struggle for some words to say.

How does one express with feeble speech

The lessons a veteran’s life should teach.”

Members of the Antelope Valley Young Marines post the colors during the 2022 Memorial Day ceremony at the Lancaster Cemetery, May 30, 2022. (Courtesy photograph)
The keynote speaker for the 2022 Memorial Day ceremony at the Lancaster Cemetery was Augie Anderson, an Air Force veteran and AV Wall Gold Star Ambassador. Anderson presented a moving and emotionally charged first-person reflection on loss, grief, redemption from grief and recovery, as he recalled being 12 years old in 1967, playing touch football in the street near his home when a military staff car came to the house. Anderson’s older brother, Richard, was killed in Vietnam on Nov. 19, 1967. (Courtesy photograph)

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