Doug Miller, a retired Army major who led the effort to plan and complete the Veterans Memorial at Pleasanton’s Pioneer Cemetery last year, read the names of the 22 Pleasanton area veterans who were killed in the nation’s wars and whose names are inscribed on the memorial.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-15th), Pleasanton Mayor Jerry Thorne and Army Colonel Windsor “Shane” Buzza, chief of staff of the 75th training command, Pacific Division, at Camp Parks in Dublin. Representatives of the Pleasanton posts of the Pleasanton posts of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, the organizations that conduct the Memorial Day ceremonies every year, also spoke.
Buzza told the crowd that the special day dates back to 1863 when, as the Civil War raged on, grieving mothers cleaned the graves of Confederate soldiers in a Columbus, Mississippi cemetery and decorated them with flowers.
“Then they noticed the nearby graves of Union Army soldiers that were surrounded by overgrown weeds,” Buzza said. “They recognized that there were family members far away who also were grieving, so they decorated those graves, too.”
He added: “That started the tradition of Decoration Day for the fallen soldiers, which in 1882, was established as the country’s first national Memorial Day.”
Thorne, in his remarks, reminded the audience that Memorial Day “asks of us but one thing, and that is to honor and remember our fallen.”
“With all of the distractions of Memorial Day – with retail sales, holiday trips, family barbecues and more -- we sometimes forget that one thing that this day is all about,” the mayor said.
In line with Col. Buzza’s story about the Confederate mothers coming together to also decorate the Union soldiers’ graves, Thorne said he believes Memorial Day “has become a day of healing for many who served during the Vietnam era.”
“We are seeing the healing of those wounds that were opened when those who fought in Vietnam came home to the misguided, unwarranted and certainly misdirected anger of their fellow citizens,” he said. “Seeing how this nation now honors those that died in that war must have a healing effect.”
He said the Pleasanton Veterans Memorial was created to honor what President Roosevelt called “that unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die, that freedom might live.”
One of these, Thorne recalled, was Buster Church, who was born and raised in Pleasanton. In 1950, he joined the Army as a heavy mortar gunner and shipped off to Korea, where he was part of the “Manchus,” an honorary title conferred upon only those regiments that demonstrated exemplary performance in the Korean theater of war.
“Buster’s regiment was one of the first in and the hardest hit in battle,” Thorne said. “Buster died, three weeks before Christmas, at the age of 21 in a battle that saw 5,000 men wounded, captured, killed or missing in action.”
Thorne continued: “Oliver Wendell Holmes, himself a veteran of the Civil War, once wrote that at the grave of a hero, we end ‘not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of courage.’”
So today, we gather here, as we do year upon year, with the contagion of courage and commit to that one thing: That we will honor our fallen by remembering them, those who dared to die that freedom might live and grow.”
Swalwell, in his remarks, said that Memorial Day 2017 had a special significance because it came on the weekend when we also observed what would have been President John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday.
“And,” Swalwell said, we remember his call to service that he made in his inauguration speech: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.’”
“It’s a call that so many young men and women have answered throughout the years as they stepped forward to serve our country,” Swalwell said. “And while those journeys have been different throughout the conflicts, what has always been constant has been what they fought for -- our country.”
He said that what has been so heartening to him in representing this congressional district is that “the good people of Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore” support those in the military every step along their way.
“You’re here today, and you’re there for the Veterans Day parade on Main Street,” he said. “You’re there for the Pleasanton Military Families’ homecoming ceremonies.”
“I also salute the Gold Star families who are here today,” the congressman added. “I know that these families want us to honor their loved ones not for how they died, but for who they were when they served. And that means also making sure that we take care of those who served that are still with us.”
During the Memorial Day program, the Pleasanton Community Concert Band, under the direction of Bob Williams, played patriotic music.
The community observance also marked the 70th year that the Pleasanton Scouts placed flags and medallions on the graves of veterans buried at Pioneer cemetery, a number that now exceeds 550.