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A quiet day of remembrance at Riverside National Cemetery

They brought the little things their loved ones enjoyed in life: bags of pistachios and bottles of bourbon, cups of coffee and carefully chosen flowers. 

Some came in groups, with folding chairs and lunches, and spent the day trading memories.

Others came alone. They kneeled and used mineral oil to shine gravestones and small brooms to clear the dirt.

All around Riverside National Cemetery this weekend, like at cemeteries across the country, families and friends enacted the rituals they keep to remember veterans they have loved and lost.

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Monday will bring barbecues, beach trips and large, public ceremonies. But on Sunday, hundreds came here, to one of the largest national cemeteries in the country, and created quieter memorials to some of the thousands of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, who have been buried here since it opened in 1978.    

Peggy Gomez, 60, of Orange County came with her two daughters, her niece and her niece’s husband to spend the morning at the grave site of her father, Enrique Salas Gogo.  

Gogo was born in Guam and lived there until 1944, when American soldiers recaptured the island from the Japanese during World War II, his daughter recalled. After that, he was so eager to join the Marines, he lied about his age, saying he was 18 when he was only 16, she said. He served for 20 years, including 13 months in Vietnam.

“He felt that was what he was raised to do. And that’s what he did,” she said

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Gogo died in April of 1993. His wife, who died the same month three years later,  is buried alongside him.

On Sunday, Gomez and her daughters brought folding chairs to sit for a time with her parents. They placed at the grave site a cup of coffee and cigarettes – some of the things Gogo loved – along with a glow stick, to light the site at night.

Not far away, David Sliney, 59, had come from San Diego with pistachios, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and photos of his family to put at the site that honors his father, Charles M. Sliney Sr., who served in the Navy during World War II and died in 1993.

As he remembered his father, who was a cook on an ammunition ship, Sliney looked out at the endless rows of American flags, which had been placed by volunteers at each gravestone the day before.

“It seems like a lot of average guys under very extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “That’s what makes them kind of heroic to me.”

Thomas M. Jones, 90, of Banning used a brush to carefully wipe the dirt and dust from the gravestone that marks the site where his wife, Edith, was laid to rest and where he will also eventually be buried.

Jones, who served in World War II, chose to be buried at Riverside National Cemetery after he visited and saw the tall trees that shade much of the 900-acre site.

“At least I’d have a flag once a year and they’ll keep the trees nice,” he said.

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He teared up as he recalled friends who lost their lives during the war – including a close friend who died on its last day.

“I’m so lucky to be here,” he said.

Near the entrance of the cemetery, dozens of volunteers conducted their own solemn ritual, reading the names of about 5,000 people who have been buried at the cemetery since Memorial Day of last year.

They began at 9 a.m. and continued until 4 p.m., said volunteer Jerome Abraschinsky, who was one of the first readers of the day.

Abraschinsky, 68, of Corona was in the Navy and served in Vietnam. For nine years, he’s been a volunteer with the Patriot Guard Riders, which attends the funerals of service members and volunteers for events like Sunday’s reading of names.  

“The men and women that are buried here at one time in their lives wrote a blank check to the United States of America for any amount, up to and including their lives,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to stand for and honor those who can no longer stand for themselves.”  

To his right, rows of cars could be seen filing into the cemetery on this overcast day, each one filled with people arriving to enact their own ceremonies of remembrance. 

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

For more Inland Empire news, follow me @palomaesquivel on Twitter


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