Dreary early morning skies delayed the crowd at the Laguna Beach Exchange Club's annual pancake breakfast, but folks more than made up for it once when the sun broke through.
"It was the biggest crowd ever," said Sande St. John, who has been organizing the breakfasts for more than 20 years. "We fed over 800 people."
St. John keeps track by counting the plates used. This year, the last folks in line were served sausages and pancakes on paper napkins.
Memorial Day began early for the volunteers who helped make the day memorable. Coastal Taxi's George Kiepper reported in at 3:30 a.m., ready to load supplies into his cab for transport to Heisler Park. Mormon missionaries, Pedro Ortiz, Danny Moy and Nico McManus arrived at 5:30 to help load and unload.
"The park is pristine, thanks to the efforts of John O'Hara and Reggie Christian from the city Parks Department," St. John said.
Grills were fired up and ready to go when some of Laguna's homeless population arrived for breakfast at 7 a.m.
Among the firefighters who flipped flapjacks: Chip Gilmore, Scott Hammond, Kurt Bladergroen, Ian DaCosta, Rob Abijay, Sean Daugherty, Jeff White, Pat Brennan, Tony Carlson, Api Weinert, Zack De John, Tom Padden and John Kuzmic.
Helpers included Weinert's son, Trevor, and Cody LaTendresse, son of Deputy Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse, who was the chief stirrer of pancake mix donated by the White House, which went along with the sausages donated by Las Brisas.
When Dave Lopez wasn't behind the grill, he was playing a bagpipe to entertain the crowd.
"He made the event, he made my day; in fact, he made my whole month worthwhile," said the always industrious St. John.
Entertainment was also provided by Laguna Tots singer April Walsh, violinist Doug Miller and Magic Matt. Children loved climbing on the 1931 Seagrave pumper engine and getting junior firefighter helmets from retired Fire Capt. Eugene D' Isabella.
The Police Employees Assn. was represented by President Larry Bammer, Nikie Hernandez, Natalie Leal; the Marine Safety Department by Lifeguard Kai Bond.
Mai Huynh donated the water and Ken Kenworthy made gallons of coffee. Other volunteers included Connie Burlin, Marion Rice, Donna and Danielle Gee, the children of Community Outreach Officer Jason Farris, former Mayors Cheryl Kinsman and Steve Dicterow, Kathryn Delp Dew, Anne Wood, Pat Freeman and Jim Rue.
John and Jan Guyette, Dorothy and Hank Benedict and Helen Diamond were among the early arrivals. The youngest at the breakfast: two-week old Caleb Cornell with his "big brother," 21-month-old Jacob and their parents, Michelle and John.
A speech to remember
The Memorial Day Ceremony in Laguna this year was made more memorable by the words of a man whose actions speak louder than his words.
"A hero should be here to speak to you today," said Federal Judge David O. Carter. "I am not a hero."
Could have fooled most folks there. Carter lives in Laguna, belongs to American Legion Post 222. Locals know that he was wounded in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart — not given for a quick mind, good looks and eloquent speeches, though all are attributes of the judge.
He continues to fight for his country today on a different battlefield, the courtrooms of countries who have no concept of civil liberty, traveling to global hot spots to teach America's system of jurisprudence.
But he was mum about that on Monday, as well as his heroics in Vietnam, only referring to himself as a former warrior, who — though aging — would enlist again to fight for his country.
Carter fought in the battle of Khe Sanh in 1968, a member of the famed U.S. Marine Corps 1st Battalion, 9th Marines Regiment, nicknamed "The Walking Dead." He came home as a first lieutenant, spent a year in recovery, a topic he didn't speak about. However, he did talk about those who did not return at all, those who were honored Monday by the folks gathered at Monument Point and throughout similar ceremonies around the county.
An empty chair sat next to the monument honoring Laguna's fallen heroes. It represented all the men and women missing in American wars.
"Some people forget what Memorial Day means," said Frank Daniel, commander of Post 222. "You who are here today are not among them."
Memorial Day began Decoration Day, the day that grieving families first decorated with flowers the graves of their loved ones — both union and confederate soldiers — who died in battle.
"It's to remember the people who died in the war," said 5 1/2-year-old Talia Stewart, who made a donation to the poppy program, fostered by Post 222 Auxiliary. Donations help support the military and their families.
Laguna's war dead and all the veterans who have passed to the "Post Everlasting" also were honored May 28 with floral arrangements from 48 local organizations and individuals — a tradition that unites even Village Laguna and the Laguna Beach Taxpayers.
"It's the most ever," said Diane Connell, president of Post 222 Auxiliary, which consists of wives, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters of veterans.
Legion Post officials Richard Moore, Daniel and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5828 Commander Arnie Silverman welcomed the crowd, which also was greeted by Mayor Jane Egly, Connell and VFW Auxiliary President Jackie Heddleston.
In the audience: Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger, veteran Louise Buckley, Festival of Arts board member Anita Mangels, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kris Thalman, Legion Auxiliary members Jean Law and Chisa Nguyen, longtime Laguna businessman Art Fong and Mary Ellen Carter, chief executive of Direct Connection to Africa, which she founded in Laguna Beach to help build villages (currently in Malawi).
Big band wraps up events
The Laguna Concert Band performance at Main Beach concluded the official observances of Memorial Day in Laguna Beach.
In less than 15 years, the group has grown from an audacious eight to more than 65 members and dropped Community from its name.
Music ranged from a South American beat to Sousa. Particularly crowd pleasing: the rousing finale, "Stars and Stripes Forever" had the audience on its feet and clapping.