A brisk breeze on Monday kept lines of American flags flying over annual Memorial Day services at the Winters Cemetery. Ray Boone, Winters VFW Post 11091 member, welcomed those in attendance.
Winters Cemetery Board Member Joe Bristow addressed the crowd, noting that many spend this holiday going to the beach or camping or shopping and may forget what the day signifies: those who gave their lives to defend the United States, over multiple wars and by serving in the armed forces.
“If you’re feeling blessed, walk the grounds and say ‘thank you,’” said Bristow, referring to the more than 400 graves adorned with small American flags, indicating that a former service member is buried there.
Gail Wingard, also a member of the Winters VFW Post 11091, then announced that former VFW commander John Sexton passed away during the week prior. Wingard noted his service to his country, the VFW and in helping to coordinate Memorial Day services each year.
Following an invocation given by Pastor James Allen of the First Baptist Church of Winters, members of the Boy Scouts Troop 998 presented the American flag and raised it to half-mast. Members of Brownie Troup 307 led the Pledge of Allegiance, and members of Junior Girl Scout Troop 2623 led the audience in singing the National Anthem.
Tom Bucci, director of long-term care for the Veterans Administration, told a story about his recent conversation with 93-year-old Al Johnson, who served in the American Air Corp, and took off in a B24 bomber on the morning of June 24, 1944 in Europe with 10 of his fellow servicemen. The plane was hit and then crashed, but Johnson was thrown clear. Eight of his comrades were killed in the crash.
Johnson woke up in a stupor and was taken captive. He was a Prisoner of War for 315 days before being rescued by Russian forces, following which, he had to walk 17 miles back to safety. He was 19 years old.
The story, said Bucci, “captures the whole meaning of Memorial Day,” and not only those who served, but family and loved ones who are left behind.
“To someone who lost someone, (Memorial Day) means something quite different,” said Bucci.
He then presented a proclamation from Governor Jerry Brown to VFW member Harold Haywood, commemorating the meaning of Memorial Day, which includes healing the wounds of the country.”
A musical offering was given next by guitarists Al Calderone and Cel Galabasa, keyboardist and vocalist Kellie Shafer, and vocalist Irene Goya-Tweedt, singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic. The group later on also led the audience in singing “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.” Galabasa also performed a stirring rendition of “God Bless the USA.”
Mayor Wade Cowan, a former Eagle Scout, delivered the keynote address.
“Memorial day is a time for all of us as Americans to reconnect with our core values and history, and to honor those who gave their lives,” said Cowan, who explored the history of the casualties of various wars in U.S. history, and also told of the first Memorial Day in 1863 in Mississippi, when loved ones of fallen Confederate soldiers who were cleaning and decorating the graves with flowers decided to also clean and also decorate the unkempt graves of Union soldiers.
The day was then known as Decoration Day, and in 1874, the tradition of placing small American flags on the graves of all soldiers was added to the holiday. The day was officially declared “Memorial Day” in 1967, and is celebrated on the last Monday in May. The day became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Cowan went on to highlight the shabby treatment given to Japanese Americans during World War II, even though many Japanese Americans fought in the U.S. military during that war. He noted that there are four such servicemen buried at the Winters Cemetery.
In summary, Cowan said, “We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives so we can live free. We can repay them by remembering what the did and what they stood for.”
Continuing to honor the theme of Japanese American servicemen, Kimi Kato, the wife of Pete Kato who served the U.S. Army in 1941, was invited forward to lay a red, white and blue wreath at the monument honoring those who gave all.
The ceremony was concluded with the traditional playing of “Taps” on bugle by Melissa Gunby, and a rifle salute by members of the Winters VFW Post 11091 Honor Guard.
Boone returned to the podium to thank everyone who participated in the ceremony and those in attendance, and also Pacific Ace Hardware, which donated all the small flags flying over the graves.