Memorial Day ceremonies are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, with the observance this year moved to Centennial Park on the open grounds next to the Pleasanton Senior Center. Although the ceremonies have traditionally been held at the city's cemetery on Sunol Boulevard, the increasing community participation has caused the observance to outgrow the limited space for parking and seating.
It's disappointing to see Monday's ceremonies moved out of the old I.O.O.F. cemetery. Sure, the new site is more spacious and will accommodate more chairs and cars, but it won't have the "memorial" feel, where so many of us have sat for so many years paying tribute to the hundreds of military veterans buried there and whose gravestones are almost within arm's reach.
The symbolism of remembering them while listening to praises about them and also about those from Pleasanton still serving in harm's way, accompanied by the Pleasanton Community Concert Band and its patriotic music, often brought tears to many eyes. For a city that's known for its downtown parades, the county fair and a shopper's paradise with a regional mall and historic downtown, Memorial Day always offers a solemn side of Pleasanton that hundreds of us appreciate.
More than 500 veterans are buried at Pioneer Cemetery, which was established early in the 1800s and contains the remains of many Pleasanton area pioneers and some who died much more recently that many of us knew. Each year my family walks through the grounds and the adjacent Catholic cemetery to remember those we knew and to read the markers of those who are part of Pleasanton's history. With both Pioneer and the adjacent Catholic cemeteries open on Memorial Day, we'll still do that.
Last year, cars that were double-parked on the narrow roads at Pioneer Cemetery blocked the driveways starting at the main gate. One woman who fell ill during the ceremonies had to be helped to Sunol Boulevard to get aid. That's when the event planners realized the ongoing risk of packing a cemetery that's woefully short of emergency services with too many people and made the decision to move the observance elsewhere.
I hope that decision doesn't detract from the same solemn feel. It shouldn't.
The same stiffly pressed uniforms of members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts will help us remember those who serve, and the abundance of color guards and American flags will keep our country and freedom in mind.
You may even want to come early. The Pleasanton band, under the direction of Bob Williams, will provide patriotic music starting at 10:15 a.m. The pre-ceremony music will include "Crimson Fields," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "An American Elegy," and "Armed Forces-The Pride of America." During the ceremony, music will include "Taps," "God Bless America" and "Stars and Stripes Forever." At the conclusion of the ceremony the band will play "Sons of the Brave," "Transit of Venus," and "The Bride-Elect."
Speakers at this year's ceremony will include Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton), Deputy Garrison Commander Larry Smith of the Camp Parks Training Center and Pleasanton City Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio. Joe Steiber, commander of the Pleasanton American Legion post, will serve as master of ceremonies for the Memorial Day event.
A 21-gun salute to "the Fallen" will be conducted by the Air Force R.O.T.C. honor guard from UC Berkeley, followed by a benediction by Capt. Matthew Holder, the military chaplain at Camp Parks.
Even though the observance will be held down the street from the cemetery, local Scout troops still placed plaques and flags on graves at both the Catholic and Pleasanton Pioneer cemeteries, another reason to pay a visit before or after Monday's ceremonies.