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Local Memorial Day Ceremonies Serve as Somber Tribute to Fallen Veterans

Families and fellow servicemen and women gather in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara to pay homage to those who fought and died

The national anthem sung by Petra Flynn rang out Monday morning over the Carpinteria Cemetery as the local ceremony began in observance of Memorial Day.

The crowd of about 60 people gathered in a far corner of the cemetery, with their hands raised to their hearts or in salute, facing an American flag blowing gently in the cool breeze and popping brightly against the blue of the sky.

“For many people, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer,” master of ceremonies Peter Bie said. “But for many others, it is a day to honor those who fought and died for our country.”

The ceremony continued with a variety of speakers, including Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who emphasized that commitment to the country doesn’t end with soldiers but extends to those back home.

“The debt we owe is beyond measure,” she said. “At this time of economic stress, it is even harder for our veterans coming home. We can leave no soldier, no veteran behind.”

From families with young children to elderly parents and middle-age sons and daughters, veterans of all generations and active-duty members attended the ceremony.

With the mountains providing a backdrop for the ceremony, American flags were held lightly in hands while Navy kerchiefs from loved ones lost were gripped in fists and medals of honor glittered in the sunlight.

Heads were bowed and it was silent except for the wind and solemn sound of bagpipes playing as the names of Carpinteria veterans killed in action were read aloud.

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of wreaths and flowers, a three-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”

Another ceremony to observe the holiday was held in the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Barbara, which had its largest turnout in years for a Memorial Day service. People lined the walls as the ceremony began with a brief address from former Marine and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who served as master of ceremonies.

“There’s a price for freedom always,” he told Noozhawk. “Today, we honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Today we honor their selfless service.”

Capps spoke at the Veterans Memorial Building as well and presented Army Staff Sgt. Ronald Zuleta with the Purple Heart for injury suffered in Iraq.

Zuleta, who remains on active duty, has served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Born in the Philippines and raised in Chicago, he said his love of the beach brought him to Santa Barbara. Zuleta at first denied the honor of the Purple Heart, according to Capps, because he didn’t want to “make a big deal” while he and his fellow soldiers were still focused on their duties.

After Zuleta received his honor, keynote speaker Dr. C. Allan Brown took the podium, speaking about his service as a medical officer in Afghanistan from October 2009 to June 2010. He began his service at age 53 and was deployed to Afghanistan at age 59.

Brown, who is also a cardiovascular doctor in Santa Barbara, was inspired by his son Daniel, who became a pilot after graduating from Dartmouth College and currently serves in the TOPGUN program. Daniel Brown has received seven air combat medals and recently returned from his third tour to Iraq.

Allan Brown’s wife, Sally, and daughter Lauren created Santa Barbara Angels, a group that sends care packages to local active duty servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Browns are certainly a family that epitomizes service to our country,” Carbajal said.

Allan Brown spoke in detail about his participation in Operation Enduring Freedom. He mostly worked in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, where he provided health care and worked to establish village medical outreach programs to Afghani communities with “40 to 50 percent infant mortality rates and 44 years mortality.”

“The average Afghan woman has seven children with the expectancy they won’t all survive,” he said.

Brown also worked with local farmers, whose main crop was opium poppies when the Marines first arrived. They worked with the farmers and because of those efforts, only wheat now will be grown. The Marines trained the Afghanis to be able to continue this farm work after they left.

Brown ended his speech by honoring those who didn’t return from his unit: Sgt. Major Robert Cottle, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite SWAT unit killed by a roadside bomb, and Petty Officer Zon Chee, a University of Texas engineering student killed by a suicide bomber in January.

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of wreaths, the playing of “Taps” by Howard Hudson and the benediction including a list of local casualties.

As the time came for lunch, the room began to empty. Two men, however, remained seated at a table, talking. Col. James Wasil, a World War II veteran, and Russell Clay Ruiz, who served on Submarine Bluefish nearly 30 years ago, were engrossed in conversation.

Wasil, who taught for 20 years at Santa Barbara High School, fought with the 83rd Infantry throughout “the boot” of Italy during WWII. After the war, he returned home in 1945 and remained in the reserves. He then went from being an inspector general in California and West Point in New York to working for the Pentagon before retiring. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Wasil served the country for 38 years.

Ruiz is a former student of Wasil’s and catches up with his old teacher yearly at the Memorial Day event.

“Memorial Day means remembering my oldest brother who was killed in combat in North Africa in 1943,” Wasil said. “It reminds me of two of my nephews killed in Vietnam. It reminds me of my own son who served in the Navy in Vietnam. It reminds me of the men in Europe who I served with and were killed. To me, the heroes are the ones that never came back. I’m no hero. Lost relatives and lost buddies — that’s what all these guys will say to you. They’re the heroes.”

Noozhawk intern Erin Stone can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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