When they talked of their wars--in Europe, in Korea, in Vietnam--it was the faces of their fallen comrades that they remembered. They called out their names--such as Moreno, Nunez and Torres--then watched as the slips of paper on which they were written were set on fire and disappeared in flames.
Symbols mattered on Memorial Day on the Eastside, and even more so in 1994.
After two years of planning, local veterans and Latino leaders dedicated the Time Capsule All Wars Memorial Monument in Boyle Heights. The monument, in which memorabilia representingevery American conflict since the Civil War was buried Friday, stands just a few feet from another that honors Latino veterans at the intersection of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Lorena Street.
Speakers addressing the gathering of about 200 people dedicated poetry to fighters now gone and spoke of valor and pride. They noted that 38 soldiers of Mexican descent have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Mexicanos are like that, they said--the first called to battle and the last to retreat.
And the veterans on hand--most in uniform and all sporting some indication of where they served--vowed to the world that they would gladly defend the United States if called again.
“Our people have often been maligned or ignored,” said Vietnam veteran Eddie Morin, whose late father wrote the book, “Among the Valiant,” about Mexican-American soldiers. “This time capsule will help put things in perspective. Dignity demands it.”
The capsule, which will be unearthed in 25 years to add artifacts from what the veterans assume will be future conflicts, was the brainchild of Jess Lopez, a World War II veteran who is 88.
“I am an Indian from Mexico,” Lopez said in Spanish, explaining that he came to the United States during the Mexican Revolution in 1911. Then he switched to English to add, “But the American dream is mine!”
Similar scenes unfolded throughout Los Angeles County on an overcast, occasionally rain-spotted Memorial Day.
Small American flags were placed in cemeteries, wreaths were laid, prayers whispered and the Pledge of Allegiance was the order of the day. Veterans organizations held open house. A section of Wilshire Boulevard was closed briefly between Veteran and Federal avenues--and affixed with the honorary moniker “Veterans Parkway"--during a ceremony attended by Gov. Pete Wilson.
In Burbank, 80-year-old Yvonne Files charmed a small crowd at McCambridge Park War Memorial with a dramatic account of her life as a young resistance fighter from Belgium who committed espionage and sabotage on behalf of the Allied forces.
Files spoke with the vigor of a woman half her age as she recalled how she took daily risks to harbor Allied soldiers in her one-bedroom apartment--men she referred to as “my airmen.”
“On this Memorial Day, let me emphasize that the basis for and thrust to pursue our activities was patriotism, love for our country,” she told the audience.
“How my reputation suffered! Don’t forget, I was a woman who lived alone. The only people nosy neighbors saw coming and going were men.”
Other communities held barbecues and parades, including La Canada’s 22nd annual Fiesta Days in which preschool students marching down Foothill Boulevard were the hit of the day.
In Canoga Park, organizers estimated that 60,000 people turned out for the Memorial Day parade held by the Canoga Park-West Hills Chamber of Commerce and Canoga Park Community Center.
Taking in the scene was Rita Pater of Woodland Hills, who came to see her granddaughter perform with the Hale Middle School drill team. “It’s glorious,” Pater said. “Perfect parade weather.”
The scene was far rowdier in Topanga Canyon, where residents were treated to a spectacle more resembling a gantlet than a parade route. The young and young-at-heart settled by the side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard armed with garden hoses, super-sized water guns and water balloons in anticipation of the bizarre assortment of primitive floats that passed by--most armed with their own water weaponry.
The half-hour ragtag parade featured members of a nudist camp wearing togas made of towels, a pickup truck whose occupants passed out wine instead of candy, and another truck featuring the “Topanga Tribal Village,” consisting of five men and women in various stages of undress.
“We’re the primate in all of us,” said Patty Jackson, 23, a topless participant in the music and dancing on the truck.
At Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica, lifeguards reported moderate crowds on the sand and the bike paths, with sunshine that seemed to be playing hide-and-seek. At Zuma Beach in Malibu, senior lifeguard Don Olson estimated that there was a near-capacity crowd of 25,000 people, trying to soak up as much sun as they could.
Olson said the only event that marred the holiday was the discovery of an apparent homicide victim--a man described by the Sheriff’s Department as a transient--on the beach near the Malibu Colony. Olson said the man, who was fully clothed, apparently had been hit in the head.
Times staff writer Vivien Lou Chen and correspondent Mark Sabbatini contributed to this story.