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Tustin remembers missing, fallen U.S. service members and their families

U.S. service members were honored at the Veterans Sports Park on Memorial Day.
The Tustin Parks and Recreation Department honored local KIA/MIA U.S. service members at the Veterans Sports Park on Memorial Day.
(Sarah Mosqueda)
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The American flag flying at half-mast above the Tustin Veterans Memorial at Veterans Sports Park on May 29 not only honored fallen heroes from Tustin but the city’s history as a whole.

“We opened Veterans Sports Park in 2020, and one of the reasons we did it was to honor the history of this area of Tustin Legacy as a Marine Corps Air Station Tustin,” said Chad Clanton, the city‘s parks and recreation director. “And one of the things that we wanted to make sure was a part of this facility is two events: Veterans Day each November and Memorial Day.”

Veterans Sports Park stands on an area of land that was formerly part of the air station, established in 1942 by the U.S. Navy, mainly for blimp operations. In 1951, it became Marine Corps Air Facility Santa Ana and supported Korean War efforts before being renamed Marine Corps Air Station Tustin in 1979. In the 1990s, the air station was a major center for the Marine Corps. Two blimp hangars remain on the former air station land.

“The blimp hangars that we have in the area hearken back to World War II,” said Clanton. “They are from the 1940s.”

To honor that history and KIA/MIA U.S. Service members, the Tustin Parks and Recreation Department hosted a Memorial Day Remembrance with a stage set up just steps from the Tustin Veterans Memorial.

The Tustin Veterans Memorial at Veterans Sports Park.
The Tustin Veterans Memorial at Veterans Sports Park was showcased at an event honoring U.S. service members. New bricks were recently installed to honor Tustin veterans at the park.
(Sarah Mosqueda)

The memorial features brick pavers engraved with the names of United States Armed Forces members who lived, worked or went to school in Tustin or were stationed at the former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin. Applications for pavers are submitted year-round and installed twice a year, on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. President of the Orange County Rescue Mission and former Tustin City Councilman Jim Palmer read the names and ranks of the 28 newly added pavers at the ceremony while Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard welcomed friends and family of the fallen.

“Memorial Day is a special time to honor all the men and women who fought to keep America safe and free,” said Lumbard. “And while we take time to honor the men and women of our armed forces, we must never forget that they have families. These men and women are spouses, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. Their families are often unseen but make tremendous sacrifices of their own.”

The same sentiment was reflected in remarks from guest speaker Rick Martinez of Honoring Our Fallen, a nonprofit organization that provides support for families of the fallen, particularly during the dignified transfer of remains.

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“For those of us that are here today recognizing Memorial Day, it is one day of the year,” said Martinez, “but for those who have lost a loved one, everyday is Memorial Day. Every day they wake up and remember that they lost a loved one. Every day they wake up and continue to mourn the loss.”

Martinez went on to share stories from his experiences working with nearly 1,300 families through his work with Honoring Our Fallen.

“For me it is always humbling to witness what I get witness, as difficult as it is during a family’s worse time in their life,” said Martinez.

Most recently, Martinez worked with the family of Army Tech Sgt. Matthew L. McKeon, who was killed in 1944 in Germany. His remains were finally identified thanks to DNA advancements and brought home to the San Diego area this year.

“I had the chance to drive his daughter, who was 2 years old when he died. She is 80 years old now,” said Martinez. “We drove to the cemetery, and even though she didn’t remember her dad, she was happy to get him back. She walked up to the casket and said, ‘Welcome home, Daddy’.”

A 21-gun salute by American Legion Post 227 at Tustin’s Veterans Sports Park.
A 21-gun salute by American Legion Post 227 honored local KIA/MIA members of the U.S. armed forces at Tustin’s Veterans Sports Park on Memorial Day.
(Sarah Mosqueda)

The presentation included a musical performance by community choir Voices of Tustin and a 21-gun salute by American Legion Post 227.

Clanton said events like the Memorial Day Remembrance at Veterans Sports Park are important for the Tustin community.

“Many of the people who live in Tustin grew up in this area and many of them have connections to this Marine Corps Air Station, when it was operating,” said Clanton. “We want to make sure that we honor those people with this event, with this memorial.”

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