ATASCADERO — The sounds of bagpipes, buglers playing “Taps,” and passionate prayers for the souls of those lost in the defense of our country rang out over Atascadero Monday as hundreds of residents gathered at two separate Memorial Day ceremonies.
The first ceremony, hosted by Atascadero Veterans of Foreign Wars post 2814, took place at Pine Mountain Cemetery and began with a prayer from VFW chaplain Dominick Simonelli.
“Today we remember all of the men and women who lost their lives in the service of our great country,” he said. “Thank you Lord for this opportunity to remember the fallen and let us never forget them. Thank you Lord for the freedom and peace we share and enjoy because of their sacrifice.”
The ceremony also included a flyover in the ‘missing man’ formation by pilots from the Estrella Warbird Museum, a presentation of the colors by Atascadero Boy Scout Troop 51, a wreath laying ceremony and a speech by VFW post commander Brian Ellis, who spoke about the earliest beginnings of Memorial Day.
“One hundred and fifty-one years have passed since a drugstore owner in Waterloo, NY encouraged businesses to close for one day to honor the soldiers who lost their lives during the Civil War, an idea that was well received,” he said. “For one day, businesses closed, widows placed fresh wildflowers on graves, townspeople placed wreaths and crosses upon the headstones and flags were flown at half-staff. It was then that an American tradition was born.”
From its earliest beginnings, America has been blessed with generation after generation of patriots willing to lay down their lives in defense of our nation, Ellis said.
“We are truly fortunate to live in a country worth fighting for, to be afforded a way of life worth dying for,” he said.
The day’s second ceremony, taking place across town at the Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial, saw approximately 500 attendees and also included a flyover by Estrella Warbird pilots along with a presentation of the colors by Cal Poly ROTC Cadets, Marlon Varin’s rendition of the national anthem, an invocation by Pastor Tom Ferrell of Atascadero Bible Church, a performance by the Gold Coast Chorus and bagpipe music from Central Coast Pipes and Drums. Col. Bill Hatch presented the addition of John Raine’s name to the Heroes Wall of Recognition and Robin Sabersky laid a wreath in memory of her husband, USMC Cpl. Ray Sabersky. Tommy and Darin Gong played “Taps.”
The event’s keynote speaker was Vietnam War veteran and Atascadero High School graduate Mark Bailey.
“All of those people (who served in the military), including all of the veterans here today, when they went into the military, they gave our country a blank check,” Bailey said. “That blank check was undated, it was signed and in the amount it said ‘my life.’ For a million of those people, we’ve cashed that check, they’re gone. We owe them something for that.”
Bailey said that repaying that debt should include honoring not only those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but also veterans who are still with us and are unable to find the resources they need to deal with the after effects of serving in a combat situation.
“The veteran’s administration, from a bureaucratic standpoint, is a disaster,” he said. “When we go to a veterans’ hospital or facility, typically the caregivers are wonderful… but getting there and getting the support we need is very difficult. So today, I’m going to challenge each one of you to do something more than come out on Memorial Day for our country. That blank check that I mentioned earlier, we need to pay for it. We need to pay for it by improving our society, by being good Americans, being good parents, being good grandparents and making a commitment to improving our society.”