But that wasn’t how it happened last Monday. The annual Veterans of Foreign Wars ceremony was not punctuated by the size or speed of America’s air power. Instead, a Coast Guard helicopter did the aerial honors, making a slow, thunderous pass over hundreds of people gathered at Union Cemetery.
“That brings back some memories,” one leather-clad veteran of Vietnam was heard to say as the aircraft approached unseen from behind some trees. “Not good ones, either.”
As always, memories abounded at the event – some bad, others good, all emotional. Retired Fire Chief Gene Gantt told the crowd about his: as a child, his father had taken him to see the many memorials at the Gettysburg battlefield, but the trip had not driven home what serving one’s country meant.
“It wasn’t until he passed away that I realized how much it meant to him to be a veteran,” said Gantt, who discovered the pride his father never spoke of in the personal papers he left behind. “I cried for two days after that.”
Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly of the Coast Guard Reserves remembered his recent trip to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. There he located the inscribed name of Sgt. Charles McCurtain, the namesake of Brentwood’s VFW post, and obtained a rubbing to display in Veterans Hall. The “flash, bang and flowers” of the typical ceremony are good, he said, but “it’s the people of Brentwood who really make it special.”
County Supervisor Mary Piepho, whose speech was interrupted by the flyover, remembered Spc. Joey Graves of Discovery Bay (2006), and Sgt. John Aragon of Antioch (2008), both of whom were killed in action. She also spoke of the Girl and Boy Scouts participating in remembrances all across far East County, noting that the future of children “is what we fight for.”
The Liberty High School Band, Warrior Watch and American Legion Riders, Deacon Ron Horan of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church and numerous other elected officials were also part of the ceremony, as was Voice of America speech contest winner Hanna Dillman. Perhaps the largest Memorial Day event in recent years closed as bugler Clinton Pruett played “Taps,” accompanied by the boom of two Civil War style cannon.
But even as the echoes of the cannon faded away, it was clear that the memories of those being honored would not.
“A long time ago I got on one of those (a helicopter) without my buddy, who’d gone missing,” said the veteran who had been given pause by the chopper’s passing. “He’s been with me (in spirit) every single day since.”