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Memorial Day ceremony honors both fallen troops and those who survived

Lt. Col Timothy Karcher, who lost his legs in Baghdad, brought many at the Rancho Palos Verdes cemetery to tears with his keynote speech honoring the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

May 31, 2011|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times
  • Mae Landauer, Ruberta Weaver and Janet Fisher, from left, watch the raising of the flag at the Memorial Day observance and recall family members who have served.
Mae Landauer, Ruberta Weaver and Janet Fisher, from left, watch the raising… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

Lt. Col. Timothy M. Karcher did not give the last full measure of devotion. But he lost both of his legs in Baghdad two years ago when his vehicle was struck by an armor-piercing explosive device. And he continues to give his heart to the U.S. Army even as he endures a painful rehabilitation and adjustment to prosthetics.

So after the highly decorated 44-year-old keynote speaker told those in attendance at a Memorial Day observance in Rancho Palos Verdes on Monday that the day was not about him but about those veterans who had died in service to their country, scores of military veterans and civilians stood in line to grip his hand and reassure him that it was indeed also about him.

Bathed by a cool breeze under a brilliant sun, an estimated 5,000 people turned out for the 26th annual observance at Green Hills Memorial Park. The 120-acre cemetery was bedecked for the occasion with 8,000 U.S. flags that Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts had placed at veterans' graves.

Photos: Memorial Day

The audience thrilled to the fly-over of a rumbling C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft from March Air Reserve Base and cheered members of the 21st Century Skydiving Team, one of whom was trailed by a gigantic flag as he guided his canopy around trees and tumbled gracefully to the lawn.

People in the crowd who stood to honor a color guard featuring U.S. Navy sea cadets, veterans groups and high school ROTC students sported their own colors in the form of star-spangled or striped T-shirts, scarves and hats. They formed a human sea of red, white and blue.

The festivities began with a convoy of military and other vehicles ascending the cemetery hill, from which attendees had a top-tier view of the Pacific Ocean and the harbor.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders — a club whose members attend the funerals of fallen military personnel — roared up the hill on Hondas and Harleys adorned with flags and eagles. A vintage hearse drawn by a white horse paid tribute to the fallen, as did a missing-man formation performed by a squadron of five CJ-6A Tigers. As the Tiger Squadron flew over, the Cabar Feidh Pipe Band played a mournful "Amazing Grace."

From the front row of folding chairs, Mae Landauer, Ruberta Weaver and Janet Fisher of Rancho Palos Verdes recalled family members who had served: Landauer's father in World War I, Weaver's husband in World War II and Fisher's husband in Vietnam, where the Marine was killed in action in 1972.

About noon, the event concluded with the release of 100 white doves that looped around and around against the blue sky.

As admirers waited to shake her husband's hand, Alesia Karcher talked about his arduous rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center's Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio. "He keeps having to get his legs readjusted," she said. "It's not easy."

But that is clearly not stopping him. Before the Karchers flew to Southern California, he did a mini-triathlon Friday in the Texas heat, biking 10 miles, swimming 600 meters and walking or running two miles.

"You are always with us, and you are never forgotten," Karcher said in his speech, which he directed to the fallen. His words brought many of those present to tears. "We remember your actions on many far-flung battlefields.... While freedom isn't free, sometimes the cost must be paid."

For Karcher and thousands of others, the cost continues.

Photos: Memorial Day

martha.groves@latimes.com

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