Honoring those who fought for our freedom

Their friends and memories may be slipping away, but World War II veterans could still count on their neighbors Monday.

Hundreds saluted local service members at Costa Mesa's Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park and Mortuary.

Speakers at the 58th annual Memorial Day services focused on the attack on Pearl Harbor, where thousands of Americans died, and the few remaining from that war's generation.

They were there to support people like Bus Cornelius, 90, who buried 14 of his company mates after fighting in North Africa. Cornelius, a sergeant in Gen. George Patton's 2nd Armored Division, was eager to share his memories — both fond and tragic.

Burying his friends, he said, was "like when you get scared, you go through the motions, and you don't get nervous until it's all done." Only when they played "Taps" at the burial, he said, "you realize they're really gone."

The youngest in his outfit, Cornelius enlisted when he was 19 and grew up fast. He remembered drinking a bottle of French wine with seven other soldiers after the funeral, and "we all cried, grown men," he said.

Today, he volunteers with the Freedom Committee of Orange County, the group that organized Monday's services, and tells his stories to schoolchildren and others.

Children patted the side of a World War II-era amphibious vehicle under a cool ocean breeze, their parents explaining what it all meant.

"I think it's an impressionable age," said Costa Mesa resident Mona Francois, who brought her nine-year-old daughter Jamie to the ceremony.

Dressed in red, Jamie was impressed by the veterans, many in their 90s.

"It's interesting to see how they lived that long," she said, waiting in line for a free hot dog and soda.

Surrounding her were graves of servicemen and women, adorned with short American flags. Earlier, two single-engine propeller plans flew a "missing man" formation overhead while Jack Hammett, a Pearl Harbor survivor and former Costa Mesa mayor, closed the ceremonies.


Twitter: @mreicher

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