ATASCADERO — For tradition’s sake and due to a small amount of confusion in relatively last-minute event schedule changes, a handful of locals showed up to pay respects at the Atascadero’s Pine Mountain Cemetery at 11 a.m. on May 27, Memorial Day.
Pilots with the Estrella Warbirds got the memo, however, on their county-wide missing man formation flyover of cemeteries, instead of heading over the city in a beeline to San Luis Obispo and returning to Atascadero north over the Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial site just before noon for services and a barbecue held there.
The press office for the ROTC cadet corps, up from Cal Poly to present the Color Guard for the day, put the number of attendees at 1,200.
Emceed by Paso Robles radio personality Dick Mason, who did a tour in the Army before taking up local broadcasting, the event shared ceremonial flourishes with the Veterans Day festivities held at the site since its completion but the invocation and guest speaker made the event’s purpose clear.
Retired pastor Rick Comstock asked the crowd to be mindful that all of the personal stories and tales held dear by men and women who served in the armed forces, past and present, cannot be adequately told by statesmen and orators, but the act of coming together to commemorate their sacrifices is powerful.
Guest speaker Ed Cobleigh, a retired fighter pilot turned adventure novelist, also based in Paso Robles, compared event turn out to the patriotic displays more common in the American Midwest and gave a lesson on the history of the memorial ceremonies.
Held in the relative beauty and tranquility of spring rather than the morose tones of a New England winter, Decoration Day started on the East Coast when flowers grew plentiful for visitors to decorate the graves of soldiers after the Civil War.
He also cited Ronald Reagan’s famous, “Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction,” line and encouraged attendees to turn out and vote. Not, he added for the same party line no matter what, but as an informed citizen of a republic, with knowledgeable views on what local politicians stand for.
Contemplative music from Marlon Varin and the San Luis Obispo Trumpet Alliance, before the wreath laying and dedication at the close of ceremonies, prompted tears and embraces between some gathered.
The Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation sponsored the event with an estimated $2,000 spent for the day. Their next Tuesday in the Park fundraiser is scheduled June 25 at the Lake Park from 5-8 p.m.