When members of the audience were invited to speak in a moving twist to an otherwise traditional Veterans Day ceremony at Los Osos Valley Memorial Park, Army Sgt. Steven Bailey was one of many to share.
Standing in tan fatigues by his wife and daughter, he said, “We get thanks every day we’re in uniform. Let’s give thanks to the wives and family as well.”
His wife, Erin Bailey, later told The Tribune that his comment made her cry, reminding her of the year he fought in Iraq, when she slept with his unwashed nightshirt every night to remember him.
More than 150 attended Thursday’s sun-drenched ceremony — one of five held at cemeteries or war memorials throughout the county and the 50th to be held at the Los Osos cemetery, organizers said.
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The personal testimonials, shared amid quiet graves, added a deep sense of kinship to an already deeply community-driven event.
Army veteran Kurt Brown stood to describe his emotions upon seeing young, uniformed soldiers dining with their parents. He urged his audience to pay soldiers’ tabs out of gratitude.
Former Merchant Marine Ira Bogart, who wore a “WWII Veteran” cap, spoke of air raids in North Africa and of being rescued from a sinking ship off the Philippines.
The ceremony, which featured processions and fanfare, opened with nearly 40 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts carrying a huge American flag to the front of the crowd, grasping its edges with white gloves.
Local high school students, as part of the Kiwanis Key Club, arrived before the ceremony to line the cemetery with dozens of large, billowing American flags.
Kiwanis member Len Myers of Los Osos said he was excited to see young people interact with veterans instead of just reading about them in history books. He was one of many club members preparing hot dogs for a lunch that followed the event.
Timothy Daniels echoed Myers’ sentiment when he took his turn to speak at the ceremony. Daniels worked for a year as a medic for troops in Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and he said the work meant trying to “return a soldier to peace.”
“Ask a vet to tell you a story, but then listen,” Daniels said. “And if you’re a vet, tell someone your story. It might just make us all a little more peaceful.”