Nine months have passed since Lance Cpl. Pedro Barboza Flores, of Glendale, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in southwestern Afghanistan.
For the hundreds of people who gathered at Memorial Day ceremonies across Glendale, Burbank and Montrose, Barboza Flores' life was celebrated among the names of fallen service members, bagpipes, benedictions, patriotic hymns and roses.
Barboza Flores, 27, a recipient of the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, was less than two months into his first tour with the Marines when the improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
"This year has been especially hard for our family," said his sister, Aurora Alamillo. "He missed his first Christmas, his first Mother's Day. Even though he was already in his mid-20s when he joined, he was still my little brother."
Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, his family moved to the United States when he was 1. A student at Glendale High School and Glendale Community College, "Pete" joined the Marine Corps in March 2008, was promoted to lance corporal in December and was crewman in a light-armored vehicle.
He was deployed in June to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, and died July 11 alongside Master Sgt. Jerome D. Hatfield, 36, of Axton, Va. Barboza Flores was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he was assigned to the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in the 2nd Marine Division for the II Marine Expeditionary Force.
His bereaved family joined hundreds of people Monday at Isabel Street and East Broadway in Glendale. Master of Ceremonies Larry Zarian, noting the historically large crowd, recognized a large contingent of veterans on hand before turning his attention to families who lost loved ones.
"I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am, how appreciative I am, on behalf of our committee and on behalf of the veterans that are here today," Zarian said. "There are veterans out in the audience that are injured from their time in the service. And there are those that would rather be here today, but they're not, and their names are on the walls instead."
Mayor Ara Najarian followed the color guard, flag salute and prisoner-of-war/missing-in-action memorial, presented by retired Lt. Col. Dave Worley, of the U.S. Air Force, with a special note to a group of veterans whose uniforms had an unusual look.
"These are Armenian veterans who fought in World War II with the Soviet Union," Najarian said. "Now for those of you who are not up to date on the history, we were allies with the Soviet Union during World War II, and these soldiers had a valiant fight on the Eastern Front fighting the Nazis. They lost many, many men, and paid dearly with their lives."
The men said they attended the memorial to commemorate the lives of American troops — not who gave their lives, but whose lives were taken from them too soon.
A veteran, as Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich told residents of La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge at the Vietnam War Memorial in Montrose, is someone who wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life.
The Crescenta Valley High School Charismatics struck up several patriotic renditions as members of the high school's Air Force Jr. ROTC program took part in the laying of the roses.
At Forest Lawn-Glendale, the 95th annual Memorial Day March began at the Little Church of the Flowers and proceeded to the burial site of a soldier who served in the Civil War.
Burbank's annual exercise in remembrance was an opportunity to reflect on the lives of those who never returned from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, more than 5,400 U.S. troops have died while serving in the two countries, 584 of them from California, according to records kept by the Los Angeles Times.
Hundreds of residents joined troops and elected officials at McCambridge Park for the city's official ceremony, where members of the Veterans Commemorative Committee read the names of nearly 300 local troops who died serving in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), after visiting injured troops in Germany on a recent trip to the Middle East, spoke of the struggles many go through when being away from home. He referenced a soldier who was abroad when his 3-year-old child drowned. And state Sen. Carol Liu implored visitors to observe a national moment of silence at 3 p.m.
Boy Scouts placed roses atop memorials, and a musical prelude gave way to a flyover by the Condor Squadron.
For many, including chairman of the Veterans Commemorative Committee Mickey DePalo, the renaming of Pacific Park in honor of Marine Cpl. Larry L. Maxam spoke plainly to the city's commitment to its fallen sons. Maxam was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Nixon for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty" in the Vietnam War.
Army Sgt. Kevin Christoffersen, one of a handful of young veterans honored by the city, returned last year after 13 months in Iraq. He spoke of his heroes, reading a poem about Memorial Day.
Among Mark Ehrhardt's military heroes is his father, Elmer, 95.
Elmer Ehrhardt, of Cincinnati, served in the U.S. Army railway transportation battalion in Iran during World War II. He was among a group of about 50,000 servicemen in Iran who supported America's lend-lease program with the Soviet Union, helping to move goods through the Persian Gulf.
"After 9/11 I felt it was important to attend these ceremonies and publicly announce my support of the men and women in our military, especially when you start to take note of their tremendous sacrifice," Mark Ehrhardt said. "We should never take that for granted."