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Forever in Memory : Memorial Day: Holiday draws thousands across the county to local cemeteries. "It was more patriotic than it is today," observes one who paid tribute.

June 01, 1993|PEGGY Y. LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Betty Kimmel has visited the Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura every Memorial Day since 1966.

That was the year her younger son, Lewis Kimmel Jr., died while fighting in Vietnam. The Marine was 20 years old.

"His father was in Vietnam too, in the Air Force, and he brought him home," Kimmel said.

As the years passed, the Camarillo resident also buried her husband and her other son, another Air Force veteran who died of heart problems.

On Monday, Kimmel was one of about 280 people who attended Memorial Day services at Ivy Lawn. Wreaths, plastic flowers and flags brought by visitors adorned grave sites throughout the cemetery, which also flew dozens of flags that once were draped over veterans' coffins.

Kimmel made her regular pilgrimage to the three graves, where she and two grandsons left bouquets of flowers.

"Here I am, 75, and all my loved ones are gone, except for my grandsons," Kimmel said. Her older grandson plans to join the National Guard this summer and her younger grandson wants to enlist in the Air Force in a few years.

Kimmel lamented that many people nowadays don't commemorate Memorial Day.

"We used to have big parades," Kimmel recalled. "It was more patriotic than it is today. It seems to me that people are looking to get out of a day of work instead of going to the services."

For Oxnard resident Jane Kapp, 67, Monday's ceremony took on special meaning because it was the first time her husband's coffin flag was flown.

"When you drive by the highway and see all these flags, it's the most beautiful thing," Kapp said.

Her husband, John P. Kapp, was in the Navy for 24 years and retired as a chief petty officer, she said. He served in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. He died of a stroke in 1991.

"I wish more people would realize what this is for," said Kapp. "It's all about keeping America free. These younger people take it for granted."

The hourlong service included several speeches, a wreath-laying ceremony and a 21-gun salute. An overcast sky hung over the crowd for most of the event, but, just as the first notes of taps sounded, the sun broke through the clouds.

Tony Mitchell, a Coast Guard veteran who served in World War II, watched the ceremony as he sat on a nearby hill and reminisced about his friends who lost their lives in the war.

"I always think about them," said Mitchell, a Port Hueneme resident who was a radio operator from 1943 to 1946. "Memorial Day kind of jars your memory of what you went through."

The national holiday drew thousands across the county to local cemeteries. Ceremonies to honor military men and women were held in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Fillmore, Camarillo and Piru. In Westlake Village, Pierce Valley Oaks Memorial Park accepted soiled, faded and torn United States flags for disposal.

At the Simi Valley Public Cemetery, 10-year-old Shawn Moore spent part of the morning shouldering a wooden cross and searching for the grave of a family friend.

While nearly 200 people listened to Memorial Day services, the precocious fourth-grader snaked passed grave markers in search of the final resting place of Capt. John Maddry.

"I've been looking for a long time. He's supposed to be here somewhere," the boy said, carrying a cross bearing the soldier's name.

Shawn eventually stumbled over the marker, after more than an hour of searching. Later he led family members to the grave site, where they completed a ritual started three years ago, when the war veteran passed away.

"This is for John," said Shawn's uncle, Michael Lowe of Simi Valley. Lowe raised a bottle of peppermint schnapps to his lips and poured a little on the ground. "We always promised him a drink every year, and we always drink with him."

Times staff writer Fred Alvarez contributed to this story.

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