Brian Kazarian of Studio City needed just one word to explain why he spent much of his Memorial Day holiday at Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood.
"Gratitude," he said as he photographed his 6-year-old son, Jack, kneeling beside a gravestone under a spotless blue sky.
Throughout the Southland, thousands of residents turned out Monday to support the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to honor the many comrades-in-arms who paid the ultimate sacrifice in past conflicts, including two world wars, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War.
In Westwood, visitors left homegrown roses on gravestones and felt the earth shake as celebrants in Civil War regalia fired more than a dozen cannons. Residents cheered a parade in Canoga Park and West Hills. They honored the parents of a 22-year-old Marine from Huntington Beach who was killed last month near Baghdad. And they pondered thousands of crosses erected on the beach in Santa Monica, each signifying a man or a woman who has perished in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, speaking at the Westwood cemetery's 117th Memorial Day ceremony, said: "We are honoring the men and women of the armed forces who gave their lives to preserve our country and to preserve our freedom. I'm humbled by being here to pay tribute to such brave men and women."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was introduced as the first serving mayor to attend the event in 17 years. He referred to the site as "hallowed ground." He left before the ceremony ended and headed to the San Fernando Valley to participate in the 18th annual Valley of the Stars Canoga Park/West Hills Memorial Day Parade.
In Westwood, Irv Justman, 87, of Los Angeles listened as the 300th Army Band played military marches. He was perched on a blue-trimmed walker that doubled as his chair. During World War II, Justman served as a corporal with the Army's 147th Infantry Regiment. He was among the soldiers sent in to relieve Marines on Iwo Jima. "I cannot claim any military trophies," he said. "I caught the tail end of the battle."
Sporting a straw hat with a stars-and-stripes band, Justman wore a belt buckle that depicted the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. On his collar was a black, white and gold U.S. Army star pin that had belonged to Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff. Justman's son David had recently visited with the general in Washington, D.C. When David said that his father had served in World War II, the general removed the pin and suggested that he present it to his father.
Also on hand were several Vietnam veterans who have become a band of brothers after gathering for many years in the same spot at the cemetery. John Hamilton, who served in Vietnam with the Marines as a radio operator and an artillery forward observer in the 1960s, wore a black vest with the names of notorious battlegrounds on the back: Chu Lai, Van Tuong, Binh Son, Duc Pho.
Standing next to him was Doug Dobransky, a photographer in Hollywood, who began coming to the observance 14 years ago. Dobransky served two years with the Army in Vietnam, participating in reconnaissance patrols and, later, rounding up casualties. He recalled the grim duty of writing letters to the parents of men who were killed.
Elaine Davidoff of Miami arrived 2 1/2 hours before the program's official 10:30 a.m. launch with her son Larry and grandson Eric, 10, both of Long Beach.
"We always do something on Memorial Day," she said. Foremost in her thoughts was Debbie Kaplan, a 34-year-old niece with the Army Medical Corps who served in Iraq before being reassigned to Qatar. She is scheduled to return home Thursday.
Davidoff confessed to having mixed emotions about the war. "Over there, so many people are dying," she said. "But we're a big power, and we try to help everyone. Sometimes we need to help ourselves."
At the Huntington Beach Pier, with the Pacific Ocean as a sparkling backdrop, more than 600 people paid tribute to fallen U.S. soldiers at an observance organized by the city and veterans groups. It featured speakers and a police helicopter flyover.
Participants honored the parents of Marcus Glimpse, 22, a Marine Corps lance corporal who died April 12 in Iraq's Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The Huntington Beach resident, who went through boot camp at Camp Pendleton, was killed by a remote-controlled homemade bomb at a roadside security checkpoint.
Glimpse's father, Guy, proudly wore his son's dog tags dangling from his neck. He sported a black T-shirt that read, "In Memory of Marcus Glimpse, Aug. 8, 1983-April 12, 2006." Relatives and friends wore copies of the dog tags.
Since learning of the young man's death, the Glimpses have endured an emotional roller coaster. "I try and keep a good sense of humor," Guy Glimpse said. "It's the only way I keep from crying."
Glimpse said his son wasn't athletic but a "computer nerd" who put on weight and muscle while at boot camp and turned into a quiet leader. His son joined the Marines after his twin brother, Michael, became an Army paratrooper.
Guy Glimpse and his wife, Maryan, said they felt comforted by the crowd attending the Memorial Day observance.
"Just the fact that so many people are here, that so many came, is so overwhelming," Maryan Glimpse said.
Assemblyman Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) presented the Glimpses with U.S. and California flags that had flown over the state Capitol.
The tradition of Memorial Day dates to three years after the Civil War ended. May 30, 1868, known as Decoration Day, was a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who had died in all of America's wars.
Groves reported from Los Angeles, and Reyes reported from Huntington Beach.