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Southland celebrates Memorial Day as a time to honor vets

Stars and stripes are the order of the day in parades and solemn ceremonies for those who died in service of their country.

May 27, 2013|By Martha Groves and Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • Four T-34 airplanes fly over a crowd of about 800 people gathered at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego.
Four T-34 airplanes fly over a crowd of about 800 people gathered at the Mt.… (Don Bartletti, Los Angeles…)

For Allan Taylor, whose grandfather served in World War II and whose father saw action in Vietnam, Memorial Day has one overriding meaning. "It's about paying homage to those who have served," said Taylor, who sailed aboard the New Jersey off the coast of Beirut in 1983. "For me, a third-generation military man, it's mandatory."

Taylor, 47, of Oxnard, was among thousands who lined Sherman Way in Canoga Park for a parade with the theme "Saluting the Price of Freedom."

Under sunny skies across the Southland, trumpets blared, drums boomed and batons twirled as patriots from far and wide commemorated the nation's fallen servicemen and servicewomen at parades and cemeteries.

At the hilltop Mt. Soledad cross in San Diego, about 800 people paid tribute to two former Navy SEALs who were killed in a terrorist attack in September while working as security contractors at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Plaques were placed to honor Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, "two people who gave it all for their country," said Bruce Bailey, president and chief executive of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Assn.

Wind whipped the many California and American flags at the hill's 900-foot summit as participants including Reps. Susan Davis, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas, all San Diego-area Democrats, watched a flyover of four T-34 aircraft, one of which peeled off in recognition of the lost men.

"They wanted to feel alive, and adrenaline was a way to scratch that itch," said Capt. Jason Ehret, the keynote speaker, a Navy SEAL who was a close friend of Doherty. "They died with honor."

Dorothy Narvaez-Woods received a standing ovation when she said her husband, known as Ty, and his dead colleague saved lives on the night of the attack.

Woods, 41, of Imperial Beach, and Doherty, 42, of Encinitas, died in the attack that also claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and information officer Sean Smith.

At Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary's 21st Memorial Day service in Santa Ana, visitors heard speeches by veterans, watched a flyover of World War II-era planes and saw a bald eagle soar.

In Santa Monica, those attending the 75th annual Memorial Day celebration got an early peek at a commemorative wall that will hold the names of each Santa Monica resident who has died while in the service since the city was established in 1875.

The event served as a kickoff for a fundraiser to pay for the memorial, which will stand in front of the mausoleum, surrounded by landscaping and benches where people will be able to see names on plaques affixed to the wall.

Stars and stripes were the sartorial order of the day, appearing not just on flags but also on shirts, hats, parasols and tattoos. Patrick Flynn, 61, a Vietnam veteran standing along Sherman Way in Canoga Park, wore a shirt featuring an eagle and stylized flag and a red-and-white-striped stovepipe hat. He and his daughter, Jamie, in a red T-shirt and blue-framed sunglasses, beamed. "I'm glad everybody's at the parade honoring the veterans," Patrick Flynn said.

Parade participants covered the age spectrum, with tiny, spangled tots in cheer squads rustling pompoms and white-haired vintage car buffs driving Model A's draped in bunting. One vehicle blasted the Andrews sisters' version of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," a sharp contrast to the raucous sound of trumpets, drums and sousaphones emanating from several flatbed trucks carrying bands of Latino musicians.

A Los Angeles Police Department helicopter pilot flew over the route and estimated the crowd at 5,000, smaller than last year. An officer on a bicycle wondered aloud whether concerns over last month's Boston Marathon bombings had kept people away.

Such worries were far from the mind of Cindy Martinez of Oxnard, who was on hand to support her 5-year-old granddaughter Natalie Garcia, a member of the Cal Storm cheerleading club, and to honor the military tradition of Taylor, her boyfriend.

The Canoga Park parade had a decidedly Latino flavor. Dressed in elaborate navy blue garb and dwarfed by his sombrero, 3-year-old Sebastian Contreras sat astride a gleaming steed Monday in Canoga Park to ride in his second annual Memorial Day parade.

As Sebastian held the reins, his father, Alvaro Contreras, attached an American flag to a leather strap on the boy's spirited horse. Soon, on this quintessentially American holiday, they would prance along Sherman Way with other members of Los Charros Unidos de Sylmar, a group dedicated to preserving the traditions of the Mexican cowboy.

"It's a very special day for the United States and for us too because we're part of this great nation," the elder Contreras said.

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