The car turning onto the American flag-lined road was covered in bumper stickers.
With slogans like “Semper Fi,” “Less fit, less mean, but still a Marine” and “Vietnam Veteran,” the stickers were pasted across the back of an SUV carrying passengers to the annual Memorial Day event Monday at the Paso Robles District Cemetery.
Hundreds of people turned out for the event, which featured a barbecue, plane flyover by Estrella Warbirds Museum members, speeches by local veterans and a patriotic sing-along. From the Marines to the Coast Guard, former and current members of every branch of the military were in attendance, along with their families and friends.
The event in Paso Robles was one of several held across San Luis Obispo County on Monday in honor of Memorial Day.
American Legion Post 50 Cmdr. John Erwin — who was the master of ceremonies at the service — said he was pleased with the turnout this year to honor the many people who served in the armed forces and “gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”
We are here today because many, many others are but a memory.
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Frank Mecham
“These things need to be taught to our younger generations,” Erwin said. “What is the meaning of the flag? What is the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance? And things like this. And when we have gatherings like this, with all of our veterans and families, they get to see what’s going on. That’s why we are here, and that’s what Memorial Day is all about.”
Army veteran and San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow spoke first during the ceremony.
“You and I are here today because we understand the importance of what it means to give our life for our country, to serve our country,” he said. “So while we here today understand the sacrifice and honor and pay homage and our respects to those that have fallen before us, we must get the word out beyond our own families, but across our communities, our towns, the county, the state and the nation, that we would not have the freedom that we enjoy today if it weren’t for the lives of these women and men that went before us and paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
County Supervisor Frank Mecham also addressed the crowd, recounting his own days in the Navy and commemorating his high school friend, Army soldier Kenneth Schwartz, who did not return from the Vietnam War.
At one point, Mecham pulled out his dog tags, which he still wears around his neck.
“What I want to speak to you about today is a piece of metal,” he said. “Often this piece of metal is all that remains of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice. And for those that survive, it can be something that evokes a memory.
“My point is this, we are here today because many, many others are but a memory. Some of you still hang on to this little piece of metal. Some hang on to it, because it reminds us of a time when we stood up, we raised our hand and solemnly took the oath that said we would protect and defend this nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And we pledged this with our life.”
At the end of the ceremony, members of the American Legion Color Guard performed a gun salute while the lamenting notes of taps played.
Silence briefly fell over the cemetery as the American flag — which had stood at half-mast throughout the proceedings — was raised to its full height, and a breeze picked up the striped banner, gently waving it in the wind.