Veterans Salute New Memorial

By Jorge Casuso

The veterans came by the dozens on Thursday -- proudly wearing their war medals and uniforms and bearing their battle wounds -- to witness the unveiling of a long-awaited Veterans Memorial on the bluffs of Palisades Park.

They saluted when SAMOHI students played the national anthem and when it was announced that the POW-MIA flag was being hoisted at City Hall, a victory for the veterans who had fought for the honor. And they watched proudly as four aircraft streamed overhead and the shadows cast by the memorial's row of monoliths fell in perfect alignment at precisely 11:11 a.m. (At sunset every Veterans Day the shadows also will be aligned.)

"It's a solemn moment, but wonderful," Mayor Pam O'Connor told the crowd of several hundred gathered in the sun-drenched park. "This is a place of honor, reflection and thanks, a memorial worthy of respect that symbolizes peace and healing."

After the mayor's speech the six 8-foot-high granite columns -- five standing for the branches of the military and the Coast Guard, the sixth for the city - were unveiled one by one.

Representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, as well as the Coast Guard, then gave speeches commemorating the "ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary deeds," performing with what Ernest Heminway once called "grace under pressure."

"Veterans saved the world, in just so many words," said William Livingston, director of the Los Angeles National Cemetery. "We know freedom is not free. Its price is paid in lives lost, human lives cut short and friends lost. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid."

"May we remember each battle fought and all the courageous soldiers," a representative for Congressman Henry Waxman read from the Congressman's speech. "Every day that somebody walks by the memorial will be Veterans Day."

Some of the veterans were remembered by those who were too young to have lived through a major war. Ten-year-old Jonathan Legata read an award-winning poem he penned as a student at Will Rogers Elementary.

And Elka Cloke, a student entering medical school, read a poem inspired by her uncle, Marshall, whose plane crashed in a field in Luxenburg, where a local boy's games of make believe in the cockpit led to a reunion of the flyers who liberated his town.

When all the speeches and poems had been read and "Taps" played on a cornet and trumpet, the color guard from the Santa Monica Police Department retired the colors to the veterans' final salute.

After the ceremony, Larry Cardenas, who was on a Navy destroyer during the Korean War, posed by the new monument and remembered those he had served with as an 18 year old nearly 50 years ago.

"Every night I pray for the MIAs that someday they'll find them and come home," said Cardenas, who said the Navy taught him discipline and the education he never received after dropping out of an El Paso School in the fifth grade. "It's very difficult for the families not knowing where they're at. I pray that those families have a sense of closure."