Roughly 60 people honored fallen troops at Desert Lawn Memorial Park Monday, May 29, in a hastily organized Memorial Day ceremony, after the City of Palmdale decided to take part in a joint event with Lancaster at Lancaster Cemetery.
Three days before the holiday, people started calling Bobby Breech, part of American Legion 348 in Palmdale, asking about the event that he has participated in for more than a decade. He used social and local media to spread the word that the event would go on as usual.
Palmdale’s mayor, Laura Bettencourt, thanked the crowd for coming out “at the last minute.”
“I come from a military family, and I have had people in every war except Afghanistan,” Bettencourt said. “It’s all about freedom, and people gave their lives to protect ours.”
Some of her relatives are buried at Desert Lawn.
Local Boy Scouts had placed American flags on the graves of veterans, including that of William J. “Pete” Knight, former mayor of Palmdale, Vietnam War combat pilot, X-15 test pilot, and astronaut. Knight died of cancer in 2004.
Although the day was sunny, it was so windy that the organizers couldn’t set up the “Table of Honor,” which represents an empty place for those dead, missing in action, or prisoners of war.
Maj. Conrad Hernandez, Air Force Junior ROTC, suggested that, as he read the service, attendees visualize the items mentioned such as: salt representing the family’s tears; lemons, the soldier’s bitter fate; and an inverted wine glass showing the inability of the lost to share in the feast.
After Hernandez asked attendees to observe a moment of silence for the lost, he recalled a former student of his, Capt. Gregory S. Angell, a U.S. Air Force pilot on exchange with the Royal Australian Air Force, who went down in a General Dynamics F-111C off the coast of New South Wales in 1986 and was never found.
Ken Simpson, from U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, reminded the crowd that falling in line of duty is not something that only happened in past wars. He told the story of Executive Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, who was killed near Santa Cruz, Calif., while intercepting narcotics smugglers in December 2012.
Horne saved a fellow crew member by pushing him out of danger but in doing so, was hit by a propeller, and died. In his honor, a fast response cutter was named the “Terrell Horne.”
Simpson attended the San Pedro ceremony in May and got to meet the hero’s family. The Coast Guard names all their cutter class boats after heroes, and this one will be stationed in the Port of Los Angeles.
Simpson said: “Not all of our fallen are protecting our shores; some fall during training. Let’s remember all of those who served.”
Speakers included Jim Ledford, former Palmdale Mayor; State Assemblyman Juan Carrillo from District 39; Terry Hopper, Veterans of Foreign Wars 3552; and Carl Hernandez, American Legion 348.
Other members of the community introduced by Breech included former Palmdale city manager J.J. Murphy; Stacia Nemeth, from the AV Wall; Marsha Furman; Vicky Ventura; Sandy Corrales; and Bob Alvis.
Linda Hayes from the American Legion Auxiliary Post 348, which provided the wreath for the monument, spoke about the need to support H.R.1413 ó Expanding America’s National Cemetery Act of 2023, introduced in March.
“Access to Arlington is under threat,” Hayes said.
As Arlington Cemetery nears capacity, the Army overseers have promoted ideas to restrict eligibility, such as only giving full military honors to those who have Purple Hearts and Silver Star awards and above.
Many veterans plan to be buried at Arlington, and those plans are now in jeopardy. The bill would convert a national cemetery into another Arlington and clear up who is eligible. As it stands, the combat requirement to be interred there means that no woman who served before 1992 can qualify, including some combat nurses from Vietnam.
Other speakers called for a National Cemetery on the order of those at Riverside and Westwood here in the Antelope Valley, given its proximity to Edwards Air Force Base, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, and Fort Irwin National Training Center.
After the playing of taps, Ken Hart from Highlands Church closed the event with a prayer.