Laguna Beach veterans honored their comrades in arms at the annual Memorial Day ceremonies at Heisler Park
“We should always remember the people who died for our country and pray now that we bring our troops home safely,” said Councilman Kelly Boyd, a Vietnam veteran.
Americans appropriately pay tribute on Memorial Day to those who put their lives on the line to preserve the rights that defines us as a country, said state 70th District Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, keynote speaker at the Laguna ceremonies.
“When you really get down to it, the thing that makes America unique and different from all other countries is the document that started it all: the Declaration of Independence,” DeVore said.
Most everybody knows how the Preamble to the Declaration begins, but DeVore focused on how it ends: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Devine Providence, we mutually pledge to each our lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
DeVore said the key word was “lives.”
“Today, we honor the men and women who have served in uniform who not only pledged their lives, but gave their lives that others might live free,” DeVore said.
Many a warrior has sworn allegiance to country or king, DeVore said, but those who serve in America’s military swear to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Laguna’s veterans paid homage Monday to those who swore that oath, but never lived to enjoy the freedoms for which they fought; those who did come home, but not the way they left; and offered unwavering support for those still in harm’s way.
American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and the families raise funds for needy veterans and their families, visit the hospitalized and host an annual trip for them to the Pageant of the Masters.
“We honor the dead by caring for the living,” said VFW Post 222 Auxiliary President Dorothy Twomey.
Post Commander Bill Sandlin urged all eligible veterans to join the post, which is limited to those who served the country on foreign soil, or the American Legion, which is open to all who serve in the military.
“I have been in the American Legion for about 10 years,” said Frank Visca, who described himself as a member of the “Chair Corps.” “I was an Army Air Corps radar instructor at the tail end of World War II and just before the Korean ‘police action.’”
However, many of Laguna’s vets belong to both posts.
Retired U.S. Marine Air Corps fighter pilot and historian Charles Quilter III brought both hats to Monday’s ceremonies.
U.S. Navy vet Dean Petersen also is a member of both organizations. He joined about 20 years ago.
“He was a battleship sailor and there are very few of those around,” said Jim Law, a career Marine, who serves as Post 222 historian and newsletter editor.
Law, who joined the Marines 1937 and retired in 1967, has been a member of Post 222 since 1961, when some of the World War I veterans were still alive, including past Laguna Councilman Harold Reed.
The post, which recently celebrated its 80th anniversary, was chartered March 28, 1927, the same year the city was incorporated. The auxiliary was chartered Feb. 10, 1928.
Post 222 membership has grown from the original 14 to more than 500, though some dues-paying members have moved out of Laguna, according to Law.
Ralph Bell was the first post commander.
“We had no place to meet and no money,” Bell wrote in the post’s April newsletter.
The first meetings were held for a while in a “barny” lean-to, abandoned when the roof leaked. Meetings were moved to a room over the old police station, but the floor sagged and the building creaked in protest whenever more than 12 members showed up.
When the Laguna Beach Unified School District put the old Park Avenue schoolhouse up for sale, the post bid $1 successfully because it was the only bid.
Bell said the post paid $3,000 for a lot on Legion Street and another $1,800 to build a foundation, with a lot of labor donated
“The building was rolled down the street on old telephone poles, held back by a number of pick-up trucks,” Bell said. “We got the maple floor donated from a skating rink.”
Funds were raised by selling hot dogs at any public function and an annual stag party with games such as poker, craps, black jack and slot machines.
“We imported ‘special acts’ from South Main Street in L.A. for the evening,” Bell said. “We made good money while it lasted, but decided we had better get out of that kind of entertainment before it was too late.”
A lot of tickets were sold for a venison barbecue, but when it came time to fire up the coals, the meat had spoiled. Member Fred Perry volunteered to find a replacement.
That may have been the first, but not the last time, goats were roasted in Laguna.
The post also entered floats in the Rose Bowl Parade, and always took a prize, once almost winning the sweepstakes.
During World War II, post members sold war bonds, scanned the skies for enemy aircraft and helped organize USO entertainment.
The Veterans Memorial Community Center also has served as the headquarters for Laguna Beach Seniors, Inc. and for recreation department classes, as well as the post’s home.
Laguna’s Memorial Day activities began with the traditional Laguna Beach Exchange Club Pancake Breakfast, served by Laguna Beach firefighters.
“I always say this, but I truly think we had more people than ever this year,” said breakfast organizer Sande St. John.
The only fly in the ointment was that the main change machine on Cliff Drive wasn’t working, St. John said. It would have been worse if not for city parks division supervisor John O’Hara.
“He came to the rescue and brought us about $40 in quarters, which our volunteers dispensed,” St. John said.
A rousing Laguna Beach Concert Band performance at Main Beach followed the solemn ceremonies at Monument Point.
An appreciative audience applauded the music and the impromptu appearance Olivia Patrick, 6, granddaughter of flautist Betsy Foster.
It was a day to remember.