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‘I just wanted to stop and say thanks': Crowds gather to honor service members on Veterans Day

Earlean Paige sat quietly in the shade of a towering tree on the lawn of Los Angeles National Cemetery and listened as a chaplain said a prayer honoring U.S. military veterans.

Dressed in her son’s Army uniform and earrings painted to resemble the American flag, Paige spent Veterans Day the way she has for decades: remembering her deceased son and husband, both of whom served in the Army, while honoring her eldest son, who served in the Air Force.

“Veterans deceased and living did a lot for us,” said Paige, who was part of a crowd of about 100 people attending the ceremony on the 114-acre Westwood property. “It’s just an honor to be able to show that respect to them.”

Nearly 88,000 veterans and family members are buried in the cemetery, which opened in 1889.

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Noboru Don Seki attended the celebration with his daughter and his wife. Seki served during World War II as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit composed of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

The 94-year-old helped drive out remaining Germans in mop-up operations after the celebrated Battle of the Lost Battalion, where Japanese American soldiers were sent to rescue a Texas battalion trapped in France. The Japanese Americans sacrificed four lives for every Texan saved but ultimately succeeded in their mission.

Seki would lose his arm a week later in a subsequent battle in France, earning the Purple Heart. The 100th Infantry Battalion, another unit mostly composed of Americans of Japanese ancestry, later combined with the 442nd Infantry Regiment into a single fighting team that became one of the nation’s most highly decorated military units. Their motto — “Go For Broke” — was embroidered on the beret and shirt Seki wore Saturday morning.

He said it was important to come out and support the military and “celebrate the memories of veterans deceased.”

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Seki’s daughter, Tracey Seki Matsuyama, said she wanted to honor her father’s sacrifice.

“They felt they had to prove their loyalty to America, so they did what they had to do,” Matsuyama, 59, said of Japanese American soldiers, adding that Seki lied about his age to enlist at the age of 17.

The Westwood ceremony was one in a host of Veterans Day celebrations throughout Southern California. Parades were held in the San Fernando Valley and Long Beach, and Pasadena hosted a commemoration in front of City Hall with a flyover of World War II-era fighter planes.

Not far from the gathering at the cemetery, Ori Barasch walked among the tombstones and visited the graves of three fallen soldiers — the same three he has visited every Veterans Day and Memorial Day for the last 18 years.

He never knew the men he stops to remember each year, whose headstones sit in a column on the lawn. Two served during World War II, and one during the first World War. Like Barasch, all three were Jewish. That was bond enough for the 53-year-old.

“I just wanted to stop and say thanks,” said Barasch, a history teacher who also works in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. He started the tradition after his son was born to teach him “the concept of commitment.”

“We have a duty to remember,” Barasch said. “I wanted him to appreciate that his freedom and things he enjoys didn’t come for free.”

Veterans Day is celebrated annually on Nov. 11 and coincides with other holidays in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I, which formally ceased hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

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As Barasch placed his hand on one of the tombstones a little after 11 a.m., an American flag flying above the ceremony was lowered to half-staff. When the clock struck 11:11, the flag flapped overhead once more. The veterans in the crowd stood and saluted.

sarah.parvini@latimes.com

For more California news follow me on Twitter: @sarahparvini


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