Southern California paid tribute Monday to the men and women who died fighting their nation's battles, with Memorial Day ceremonies of prayer and thanksgiving--and with the parades, parties, reunions and general enjoyment to be expected of a springtime holiday.
Gov. George Deukmejian and Archbishop Roger Mahony addressed Memorial Day ceremonies in West and East Los Angeles, while President Reagan's official proclamation was delivered by surrogates at Forest Lawn Memorial parks in Glendale and Cypress.
Homeless men and women--some of them veterans of the Hands Across America event just 24 hours earlier--lined up for free holiday meals on Los Angeles' Skid Row, while veterans of the Army's elite World War II ski forces held a reunion in La Canada and more than a million people spent the final hours of their long weekend at the beach.
The California Highway Patrol added a semipleasant note:
Statewide, there were 39 traffic fatalities between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday, as contrasted with 42 during the same period last year; drunk driving arrests for the 60 hours totaled 2,266, which is 125 fewer than last year.
Southern California traffic deaths were down from three people last year to two this year, and 517 people had been arrested for drunk driving, down from 643 in 1985.
Deukmejian, addressing a crowd of nearly 1,000 at the National Cemetery in West Los Angeles, said, "Time after time, history shows that tyrants are tempted by weakness. That is why we must keep America strong, determined and vigilant."
The 4th U.S. Infantry Reenactment Troop, in Civil War costumes, fired a gunshot salute, and the program ended with the playing of "Taps."
In East Los Angeles, Archbishop Mahony paid tribute to 18 immigrants to the United States who won the Medal of Honor while fighting for their adopted country overseas.
Addressing a crowd of about 100 at Eugene A. Obregon Park, named for an East Los Angeles man who died in Korea, Mahony said, first in English, then in Spanish: "We honor very specially today all of those who have come from different lands and contributed to the richness and diversity of the United States of America."
At Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Daniel Helix addressed about 400 veterans and their families, delivering Reagan's Memorial Day proclamation, which said, in part:
"Defense of peace, like the defense of liberty, requires more than lip service. It requires vigilance, military strength and the willingness to take risks and to make sacrifices."
Other Memorial Day ceremonies were held at cemeteries and parks throughout the Southland, including a gathering in memory of black war dead at Lincoln Memorial Park in Compton, services sponsored by the American Legion honoring deceased entertainers at Hollywood Memorial Park and the American Veterans' Memorial Assn.'s 48th annual ceremony at Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton.
Members of the Southern California chapter of the 10th Mountain Division Assn. seized the weekend as an opportunity for a reunion celebrating their own survival of the World War II night assault on Riva Ridge in northern Italy and paying tribute to comrades who were less fortunate.
In Los Angeles, about 4,000 homeless and hungry men and women came to a little street park at the corner of Main and Winston streets on Skid Row for a free noonday meal provided jointly by Love Is Feeding Everyone (LIFE--an organization founded by actors Dennis Weaver and Valerie Harper), the Brotherhood Crusade, the National Council of Negro Women and radio station KGFJ.
Harper appeared in person to help hand out the meals, as did several other celebrities, but the food was late and the crowd became restless and threatening for a time.
"We don't know exactly what happened," a spokeswoman for the group said. "It was supposed to be ready an hour earlier. . . . "
Finally, however, the food arrived and tensions evaporated. Other holiday lunches and dinners were provided during the day at the Union Rescue Mission and Midnight Mission downtown and at the Concerned Citizens Community Kitchen in South-Central Los Angeles.
Elsewhere, the atmosphere was one of general relaxation and enjoyment.
Mountain and desert resort areas were booked to capacity well in advance of the holiday, and the overflow filled parks and beaches throughout the Southland.
Several beaches were closed at various times during the day due to shortages of parking space, as more than a million holiday visitors swarmed to the ocean's edge from Dume Point to San Diego, despite overcast that kept much of the shoreline gray and cool well through midday.
By late afternoon, lifeguards had reported more than 400 rescues but no serious injuries.
But onshore, one person was seriously hurt and four others suffered minor injuries when they were hit by an automobile while trying to cross Pacific Coast Highway at Will Rogers State Beach.
In Angeles National Forest, two men were killed when their jeep-type vehicle plunged off a road, rolling down about 50 feet, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Neither man was wearing a seat belt, Fire Capt. Larry Wild said. He said a 10-year-old boy who was in the back and wore a seat belt suffered only a broken thumb.
High temperature at Los Angeles Civic Center Monday was 79 degrees, with relative humidity ranging from 54% to a soggy 93%, and the National Weather Service predicted more of the same--coastal low clouds reaching inland to the valleys during the morning hours with hazy afternoon sun and temperatures to the upper 70s--for today.