On Monday, May 31, hundreds gathered together to honor our nation’s fallen heroes at the Faces of Freedom Memorial in Atascadero.

Hosted by the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation (AVMF), the annual Memorial Day Ceremony was the largest in attendance in San Luis Obispo County.

A flyover from Estrella Warbirds started the ceremony with the crowd cheering, side by side, in support of one another and our veterans after a year deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dick Mason of KPRL
Photo by Rick Evans

Dick Mason of KPRL Radio emceed the ceremony, and local artist Rebecca McKinley sang the national anthem.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, with roots in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

It is told that in late April 1866, an assembly of four Mississippi women traveled to decorate graves of soldiers who died in the Battle of Shiloh. They found Confederate graves in good condition and cared for alongside graves of Union soldiers untended. Moved by the scene, they honored the Union soldiers’ graves with flower decorations as well, in somber grief for lives lost.

Memorial Day is the only holiday in which we honor those who lost their lives in service to the country. The holiday officially became a federal holiday in 1971.

Guest speaker, Commander Ray Johnson, a Navy and Vietnam War veteran and former Atascadero Mayor from 1996-1997, shared a heart-filled speech remembering those who lost their lives to the ultimate sacrifice so that all Americans can live free.  

“Those of us who served during time at war fully understand the deep meaning of the ultimate sacrifice,” Johnson shared.  

Johnson was the distinguished Veteran of the Year from the fall of 2020, along with local US Army Lt. Col. Al Fonzi.  

The placement of the memorial wreath was presented by the Vietnam Combat Veterans Group of the San Luis Obispo Veterans Center.

County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong and his two sons played the traditional military tune “taps” during the flag salute. Photos by Rick Evans

County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong and his two sons played the traditional military tune “taps” during the flag salute in honor of the soldiers that died and never made it home.

According to the Association of the United States Army (AUSA.org), Taps is a melody that is both eloquent and haunting. The history of its origin is interesting and somewhat clouded in controversy. In the British Army, a similar call known as Last Post has been sounded over soldiers’ graves since 1885, but the use of Taps is unique with the United States military since the call is sounded at funerals, wreath-laying, and memorial services.

Among those in attendance were Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno, Councilmembers Charles Bourbeau, and Susan Funk, along with County Supervisor Debbie Arnold and County District Attorney Dan Dow.

Dow shared in honor of the day, “Memorial Day- The day we pay our respects to the fallen American warriors of each generation. We are the home of the free because of the brave. We must always remember.”  

Each year the volunteers of AVMF make sure that the Memorial is polished and cleaned throughout the year and prior to any event.

The website shares, “Throughout history, patriotic Americans have been drawn together to serve a cause greater than themselves. Some came because of a common experience. Most came because of common values. All came because they shared a dream. The people who belong to the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation are such people. They believe that the true reflection of America is in her ability to honor our Veterans of the past, who have given so much that Americans might live free.”

Photos by Rick Evans

Another honored North County annual event that was canceled again this year due to the pandemic was the Paso Robles District Cemetery annual Memorial Day event. However, they did have the avenue of flags that the community was welcome to drive-thru over the weekend that remained through Memorial Day on Monday.  

For more information on joining the Foundation or how you can support, visit facesoffreedommemorial.org.

Publisher’s Note: 

Memorial Day is a day to honor those who gave their all to protect our great nation. We here at The Atascadero News and The Paso Robles Press believe that America’s Heroes deserve more than just one day. 

The best way we know how to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms with their lives is to continue to report the news to you in Truth, Transparency, and Tradition.

We have dedicated our lives to this and appreciate your support of local journalism.