The meaning of Memorial Day was not lost on the hundreds of individuals who braved blustery weather to take part in Sacramento Valley National Cemetery’s Memorial Day Observance Ceremony Monday morning.
Sponsored by Sacramento Valley National Cemetery Support Committee, the cemetery’s observance of Memorial Day has become a tradition that honors the sacrifices made by many who served their country.
The strong winds carried the sounds of the 59th Army Band as they played selections, welcoming the throngs of cemetery visitors Monday.
Cynthia Nunez, the cemetery’s new director, welcomed all in attendance and told the audience that 9,279 veterans rest at the cemetery.
“They tell the story of the road we travelled as nation,” she said. “There is hardly a day I don’t say a prayer to those resting here.”
Several times during the ceremony Clyde Jones, a former Navy lieutenant who served as the Master of Ceremonies, and other speaks called for veterans and active-duty military members to stand and be recognized for their service.
But perhaps the most poignant moment of Monday’s observance of Memorial Day came with the testimony of retired Army Lt. Col. Barry Bridger.
Bridger spent six years in Vietnam as part of his Army tour and was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in 1967. Bridger was a Vietnam-era prisoner of war who was eventually freed from captivity and returned to the United States.
On Monday, Bridger told the many who gathered that is was American values of integrity, liberty, brotherhood and love of country that kept him alive during his captivity.
“American Vietnam POWs walked into Hanoi with these values at of our ancestors and they brought us home with honor,” he told crowd.
Bridger challenged everyone in attendance to live a life of abundance – to give whenever possible – instead of one of prosperity.
Main Speaker J.P. Tremblay – the deputy secretary of communications and legislation for the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs – told the audience that Memorial Day was not only to honor the sacrifices made by American military members, but also their families.
“People say that the solider when he or she dies has paid the ultimate price for freedom,” he said. “But you, the families, have paid that price as well. You must carry on the memory of your loved ones. The sacrifice upon the altar of freedom is always the greatest for the families.”
Tremblay also issued a challenge to everyone in attendance.
“I challenge each and every single one of you to earn the freedom that you have been given by these sacrifices … be the best that you can be,” he said. “Earn what has been paid for by making your piece of the country a better place.”
Monday’s ceremony brought many veterans and their families to the cemetery. Many members of the Napa-Solano Chapter of the Patriot Guard riders were in attendance with flags in hand, holding a perimeter of red, white and blue around the ceremony.
Hogan High School’s NJROTC Color Guard presented the colors during the ceremony; Sacramento Valley National Cemetery Honor Guard provided a rifle salute while a member of 59th Army Band played “Taps”; and a C-5, part of the 312th Airlift Squadron out of Travis Air Force Base did a flyover over the ceremony.