Robert ‘Bob’ Wilkins honored during wreath presentation

ATASCADERO — Crowds of patriotic residents filled the Faces of Freedom Memorial on Monday, May 27, for the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation’s 16th Annual Memorial Day Celebration. The heartfelt ceremony honored and remembered those who lost their lives while serving and protecting our country.

“Once again, we want to thank you for joining us today. To look out and to see all the faces out here warms my heart,” said emcee Andy Morris.

As in years past, the Estrella Warbirds started the ceremony at 11 a.m. with a flyover before the Cal Poly ROTC performed the Presentation of Colors. Once again, Central Coast Pipes and Drums accompanied the procession, followed by the Atascadero High School Choir singing a beautiful version of the national anthem. Later in the ceremony, Mya Nelson, also from the choir, sang a song called “Rainbow.”

2024 Atascadero Memorial Day Rick Evans0035
Members of the Atascadero High School Choir sing the national anthem at the Faces of Freedom Memorial Day Celebration on May 27 in Atascadero. Photo by Rick Evans

“Oh gracious God, on this Memorial Day, we remember and give thanks for those who’ve given their lives in the service of our country. When the need was the greatest, they stepped forward and did their duty to defend the freedoms that we enjoy and to win the same for others,” said Grace Central Coast elder Paul Bautts in his Invocation.

Many local officials were also at the ceremony, including Assemblymember District 30 Dawn Addis, District 5 County Supervisor Debbie Arnold, District 2 County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno, Atascadero Mayor Pro Tem Susan Funk, Councilmember Charles Bourbeau, Councilmember Mark Dariz, and San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow.

Not only were the veterans in attendance honored, but so were the Gold Star Families, who are families of fallen soldiers, for which a touching moment of silence was held.

This year’s guest speech was given by Retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Todd Fredricks. Originally from Georgia, Fredricks went into the Marines in 1980 and was deployed to Beirut, Somalia, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden in Bosnia in administrative chief roles. He moved to SLO County in 2006 after retiring.

“We gather today to pay tribute to the members of the armed forces and the merchant marines, courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service and defense of this nation and its allies,” stated Fredricks. “And as they all swore that selfless commitment to service and duty, we owe them the same commitment to remember them. We owe them a profound debt of gratitude for their selfless dedication to this nation, its citizens, and those throughout the world who long to know and preserve freedom.”

2024 Atascadero Memorial Day Rick Evans0018
The Presentation of Colors is performed by the Cal Poly ROTC at the Faces of Freedom Memorial Day Celebration on May 27 in Atascadero. Photo by Rick Evans

He then went on to point out the importance of remembering those who lost their lives in lesser-known events during their service to our nation. He continued to tell a story that took place in 1983 on his second back-to-back deployment to Beirut, Lebanon, as a corporal in a multi-national peacekeeping force.  

On Sunday, Oct. 23, just weeks away from Fredericks’ return home to the U.S., at 6:22 a.m., an Iranian Hezbollah suicide bomber drove a large truck loaded with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT into the lobby of a four-story building that Marines, soldiers, and sailors were staying in. Fredricks was in a building close by, completing a night watch, when the blast happened. It wasn’t long before he learned that 241 soldiers would not be coming home. Fredricks’ speech gave a voice to the men and women lost on that day.

“The nation’s fighting forces have a proud history. One of tragedy and triumph. Their legacy and that of over one million others that have lost their lives in the short history of this nation should not be that of mournful regret,” continued Fredricks. “We should revel in their spirit, their love for God and country, their love for life, and their love for each and every one of us here today. They’re gone but live on in every one of us, and their sacrifices reserve for them a place of honor in our history as well as in our hearts.”

Addis also spoke at the event.

“Today, we love them [fallen soldiers] back, and we do that through our service,” she said. “We do that through sacrifice when we can. We do that through our memories and making sure that we never forget those who have loved us and given their lives to do so.”

The Memorial Wreath was placed in honor of Mr. Atascadero, Robert “Bob” Wilkins, this year. Wilkins passed away earlier this year on Feb. 25. As well as being the first Mayor of Atascadero, he was also a Naval Reserves veteran, and founding board member and supporter of the Faces of Freedom Memorial. The wreath was placed by three of Wilkins children, Joyce Wilkins, Jane Hilty, and Jim Wilkins.

Dr. Alexander Castellanos played taps before the retiring of the colors. Bautts also returned to the podium for his closing Benediction, which he dedicated to veterans and their family members, as well as those who have lost military members.

Feature Image: Dr. Alexander Castellanos plays taps at the Faces of Freedom Memorial Day Celebration on May 27 in Atascadero. Photo by Rick Evans