Salvador and Diana Pleitez’s son died while on duty in Afghanistan less than a year ago, and their loss was still visible as tears streamed down their faces at San Luis Cemetery before more than 100 people Monday.
“We miss him but we are really proud of what he was able to accomplish,” said Salvador Pleitez of his middle son, who served in the Army National Guard.
As part of an annual Memorial Day service at the cemetery — which included speeches, song, salutes and a flag raising — the Pleitezes received the Elks Medal of Valor for their son’s sacrifice.
For Salvador Pleitez, the honor has made the holiday more important.
Now that his son is one of the soldiers remembered on Memorial Day, it “takes on a whole new meaning,” he said after the ceremony. Now he wishes he had served like his son, he said.
From the San Joaquin Valley, 25-year-old Spc. Benjamin Pleitez died July 27, 2012, in an accident in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. A member of the Army National Guard since 2006, Pleitez was assigned to 1072nd Transportation Company in Fresno. Pleitez also trained at Camp Roberts near San Miguel. In 2011, he was promoted to specialist during a training operation there.
In December 2012, Pleitez volunteered to transfer to the 649th Military Police Company at Camp San Luis Obispo because the unit needed more medics before traveling overseas.
It was his first deployment.
But Benjamin Pleitez was not the only veteran honored Monday. Each branch of the service was honored with song when veterans in the crowd were asked to stand.
There were also other honors; across the cemetery small American flags fluttered beside each grave belonging to a veteran.
In all, there were 800 flags between the San Luis Cemetery and the Old Mission Catholic Cemetery across the road, said Frank Rowan, a Korean War veteran, and a member of Elks Lodge 322.
Monday’s ceremony — one of many across the county — was organized by American Legion Post 66 and hosted by San Luis Cemetery Mausoleum and Memorial Gardens.
It was co-sponsored by Wheeler-Smith Mortuary Crematory. American Legion San Luis Obispo Post 66 also gave a Gold Star flag to the Pleitezes. See more photos of the Memorial Day service at San Luis Cemetery »