A young boy, four years old at most, looked up at his grandmother, his tiny hands held one in hers and the other in the weathered hand of a Vietnam Veteran. He timidly walked down the center aisle, the three of them leading the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter to present two wreaths at the Alameda Memorial Day Ceremony. One wreath was a regular memorial wreath for all those who have served their country. The other wreath was for the small boy’s father, a thirty-year-old Staff Sergeant who was killed in Afghanistan within the past year.
Members of other various veterans groups, gold star parents, wives clubs and other service organizations brought forward their wreathes to honor and remember the fallen. Most wreaths had red, white and blue flowers. The disabled American Veterans Alameda Chapter placed a wreath of light purple flowers.
Below the large flag pole with its half-mast American flag, a flag for each branch of the armed services snapped in the wind. A ceremonial table stood to the front of the whipping flags. Six empty seats, chairs folded and leaned against the table, places set for those who are missing in action, a place for each branch of the armed services, a hat from each branch resting on the plate in front of the folded chair.
Rear Admiral Castillo stood at the podium, his strong words echoing from the portable speakers across the large crowd spread over the small park’s lawn. The Rear Admiral’s address spoke of the Staff Sergeant, of the sacrifice he and his family and so many other service members and their families have given. “We all know someone;” he said, “we all have friends or family who have been in the combat zones.” Speaking to this particular crowd in this Coast Guard City with its decommissioned naval base and its museum aircraft carrier, he may have been right.
I thought about the people I know: two uncles who were in the Navy, a cousin who currently is; family friends posted in Afghanistan; a sorority sister in the National Guard; a sorority sweetheart who was killed in Iraq, acquaintances from high school and college in the Marines, and probably more that I’m forgetting or don’t know about.
At first, the Rear Admiral’s comment struck me as odd. I’m so used to the loud anti-war, anti-services messages in Berkeley, that I forgot there are others in the Bay Area (and in Berkeley), who are still connected to those making sacrifices for the sake of the country, still honoring, still respecting. It was a good reminder. A good reminder of the humanity around me to which I am often blind, and a good reminder of what others have given for all our sakes, even the four-year-old boys who do not yet understand the sacrifice.