“My gosh, they’re still coming,” a woman in a stars-and-stripes shirt was heard to say as the steady stream of steel and leather cruised slowly past. “How many are there? I can actually feel the ground shaking!”
The ground wasn’t the only thing moved during the observances sponsored by the City of Antioch and hosted by Mayor Jim Davis. The crowd of about 500 was moved as well, not only by the traditional ceremonies such as the raising of the flag, a 21-gun salute and a dove release, but also by the deeply personal message delivered by Denise Aragon. Accompanied by members of her family, the mother of Army Sgt. John Aragon, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq last year, spoke to the memory of her dearly departed son.
“If only I knew the last time I saw you that it would be the last time, I would have hugged you longer and tried to hold on,” she said. “I keep thinking of you, and waiting to hear that this is all a big mistake.”
Aragon was followed to the podium by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6435 Commander Henri Veilieux, already known for keeping his remarks brief.
“I was going to tell you all about Memorial Day,” an emotional Veilieux said. “The Aragon family just did that.” He returned to his seat.
Also addressing the crowd was Lt. Col Scott Gremeling, commander of the 483rd Transportation Battalion out of Mare Island. The City of Antioch and the 483rd recently adopted each other to lend mutual support whenever possible.
“I’m thinking about our soldiers who are not here now so that we can sleep peacefully at night,” he said. “A single day (to honor them) is not enough. We need to teach people the sacrifice they, and their families, have made.”
Events also included the laying of a wreath at the Veterans Memorial, and the placing of a rose 911 Memorial by Cub Scout Pack 151 and Boy Scout Troop 450. Earlier, a WWII-era B-17 bomber had soared overhead, and a ceremonial table was set for those missing in action. A Bell Ceremony rang out honors for the members of all the military branches who had given their all for America.
Stirring music was provided by the Antioch and Deer Valley choruses, bagpiper Jeff Campbell, Vickie Garcia and James Martin. Timothy Forrester also sang beautifully, as did Carolina Bruno, Karla Adams and the Psalm 100 Choir.
But, as always, the most heart-rending music came last. As hundreds of flags fluttered on veterans’ graves and the POW/MIA banner snapped in the breeze from the flagpole, Justin Spahn and David Russo played the haunting duet known as echo Taps.
“Taps is always last,” observed the woman in the stars-and-stripes shirt. “I’m glad. I don’t think I can take any more of this emotionally. Until next year, anyway.”
To view more photos from the event, click here to visit the Multimedia page.