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U.S. sailors take a Memorial Day turn on L.A.’s 6th Street Bridge

Rows of people in white uniforms walk on a road.
Sailors of the USS Carl Vinson walk across the 6th Street Viaduct connecting downtown Los Angeles with the Boyle Heights neighborhood on May 27, 2024.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)
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Street racers, social media influencers and lovebirds helped make the 6th Street Bridge a citywide gathering spot after the remade viaduct first opened two years ago.

On Memorial Day, hundreds of sailors decked out in their bright white uniforms and caps took their turn on the bridge.

L.A.’s newest landmark — which connects the city’s Arts District and Boyle Heights — hosted a public Fleet Week event for some 500 sailors from the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered ship docked in San Diego.

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There were performances by a 1st Division Marine Corps band, as well as speeches, including one by local City Councilman Kevin de León and a moment of silence for members killed in service. The sailors marched for a length of the bridge before standing quietly.

Although the crowds were thin, later in the afternoon, the sailors — many of who are in late teens or early 20s — had the run of the closed-off bridge and food trucks that served pizza and street tacos.

A couple of sailors took turns riding a motor bike back and forth across the bridge in the bright sunshine. At another point, one emerged with a carton of Coors under his arm and handed out cans.

For some in the group, it was their first trip to L.A. The sailors, in interviews with The Times, talked about eating in Little Tokyo or visiting a Korean spa.

People in white uniforms throw sailor caps up into the air.
Sailors of the USS Carl Vinson gather on the 6th Street Bridge.
(Dakota Smith / Los Angeles Times)

Carmela Bermudez, 19, a technician in the Navy, sat on a divider next to her boyfriend, Kadin Brewer, 18, who also is in Navy. Brewer handles bombs and ammunition.

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“The bridge looks awesome,” said Brewer. “The curves ... and it’s super long.”

“I’d rather be here than be on the ship,” said Bermudez.

Memorial Day is connected to the Civil War, first marked to remember those soldiers who lost their lives, and later a broader remembrance of those who died in service to the nation.

The 6th Street Bridge event was one of many Fleet Week gatherings in L.A. neighborhoods this year, part of the Navy’s effort to publicize its work.

The viaduct reopened in 2022, replacing a popular Streamline Moderne bridge that suffered from what engineers called “concrete cancer” that left it continually crumbling.

People in white uniforms stand in several rows on a road.
Sailors stand on the 6th Street Bridge.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

After the bridge reopened, drag racers and daredevils who climbed the bridge’s arches brought a rash of negative headlines. Today, copper wire thefts in the area remain a problem.

At the same time, the bridge has continued to host biking and concert events.

Richard Meyer, deputy commander of the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, called the bridge a “renewed icon” for L.A. during a short address.

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He drew a contrast between the bridge and the ocean, noting that both are pathways for the transfer of commercial trade. The Navy, he added, helps protect the ocean’s waterways.

Rows of standing sailors across a wide expanse.
Sailors of the USS Carl Vinson.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

The USS Carl Vinson is leaving the Port of Los Angeles on Monday night. The ship is named after the U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson (D-Ga.), who helped expand the Navy and was an ardent segregationist.

Adalhi Montes, 34, traveled from Long Beach for the event but expressed surprise at the lack of attendance. “I honestly wish there were more people here,” Montes said.

Two friends, Kay Pegram, 70, and Leslie Carlson, 80, came out after hearing about the event on the radio. Both of their fathers served in the military.

The friends live at Hollenback Palms, a retirement community in Boyle Heights, and refer to the bridge as “our bridge.” They frequently walk across it to have dinner in the Arts District, they said.

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Both said they are frustrated by the copper wire thefts on the bridge, which is no longer lightd up at night — as it was when it made its debut two years ago.

“I wish they had more things on the bridge,” said Carlson, recalling the parties after the bridge reopened.

As the band wrapped up “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Pegram called out, “Go, Dodgers!”

A few people in white uniforms sit on a concrete barrier.
Sailors of the USS Carl Vinson sit on a railing on the 6th Street Bridge.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)
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