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Poignant Services Mark Holiday

June 01, 2004|David Reyes and Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writers

With the continuing conflict in Iraq, Bill Hessen thought this year's Memorial Day observance was more poignant than usual.

"It makes me think of all those who weren't as lucky as we were in coming back," said Hessen, 77, of Fullerton, a World War II veteran who served in the 101st Airborne Division.

Hessen, garbed in fatigues, was among more than 2,500 people who attended a ceremony Monday at Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton, one of a half-dozen Memorial Day events in Orange County.

Fullerton's observance, one of the county's oldest, paid a tribute to the military's sealift command, which has shipped most of the war's supplies to Iraq.

"Americans born and raised after World War II have come to expect that our military strength and world position are givens," said Navy Capt. Juan L. Chavez, commander of the Military Sealift Command of the Pacific in San Diego. But "freedom is not free ... the victory was not without cost."

Meanwhile, at Calvary Church of Santa Ana, more than 400 people gathered to hear Army Maj. Mike Albertson of the 3rd U.S. Armored Corps at Fort Hood, who recently returned from Iraq. Church volunteers have made more than 900 stained-glass angels for the families of service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Memorial Day was always known for commemorating the beginning of summer, getting out the backyard barbecues and time to go to the beach," Albertson said. "But with the war, it's not like that anymore."

At Westminster Memorial Park, VFW Post 3670 held its annual graveside service for Staff Sgt. Kazuo Masuda, a highly decorated member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese-American infantry unit that fought in Europe during World War II. The post is named in his honor.

Masuda, who was killed in action Aug. 27, 1944, received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award for bravery. He also received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, among other citations and medals.

About 125 Japanese-American veterans and their families gathered for Monday's ceremony, including Masuda's brother, Mas, and former members of the 442nd.

Speakers praised the regiment -- one of the most decorated units of World War II -- saying its soldiers not only fought the Germans, but also racial prejudice at home that led to the internment of Japanese immigrants and citizens of Japanese descent.

Hiroshi Takusagawa, a former member of the 442nd, said the fighting in Iraq didn't necessarily make this year's Memorial Day any more important than in years past.

But "it's sadder because we are adding more names that are killed in action," Takusagawa said. "These ceremonies remind us of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Otherwise all of us might not be here."

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