Holiday is a solemn one

Daily Pilot

Americans on Monday will honor their war dead.

An annual springtime ritual will play out in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Corona del Mar, as well as in towns, hamlets and cities nationwide. Veterans, civic leaders and politicians will gather at local cemeteries, or outside veterans' halls in their respective communities, to remember fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The nation gets the day off on Memorial Day, the climax of a three-day weekend kicking off the summer vacation season. You might be looking forward to enjoying a few cold ones and some barbecue with family and friends. Sure, we think it's important that Americans rest and play, but we urge everyone to pause and recognize the solemnity of the last Monday in May.

Memorial Day and its Nov. 11 counterpart, Veterans Day, were meant to be distinct occasions; yet the two more or less have blurred into one, particularly for those who were raised during times of relative peace. The former was established to honor fallen servicemen and women, the latter to honor retired and former members of the Armed Forces who survived combat and lived on after wartime.

Memorial Day goes back to America's bloodiest conflict, the Civil War. According to a history from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it was first called Decoration Day. On May 5, 1868, Maj. Gen. John Logan, a Union Army veteran, declared that the gravestones of all the Civil War dead be decorated with flowers on May 30. And, in an act of national healing and reconciliation on this day 142 years ago, dead soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies were honored that way during an inaugural Decoration Day ceremony at Arlington, Va.

Closer to home, Memorial Day 2010 services will take place at the Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar, at American Legion Post 291 on the Balboa Peninsula and at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park and Mortuary in Costa Mesa. While the view from Harbor Lawn likely won't be as beautiful as at the two other locations, we nonetheless recommend a visit to the Costa Mesa Veterans Memorial, which opened at Harbor Lawn on Memorial Day 2007.

Go there when no one else is around, and you will leave with a lump in the throat. For a cemetery located so close to the busy intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Gisler Avenue, Harbor Lawn is surprisingly peaceful.

You will enter the memorial at a ringed and columned structure. At its center stands a statue of an upended M-16. Its muzzle is tucked between a pair of combat boots and a post-Vietnam War-era helmet crowns the assault rifle's butt. This symbolizes one of those makeshift battlefield memorials to a dead soldier that has become a common sight in America's two present-day foreign wars.

Walk past the statue and down a concrete path lined by gravestones of veterans who served in wars dating as far back as the Spanish-American War (1898), and you'll come to a monument flag pole with plaques dedicated to fallen soldiers.

One plaque bears the name of Lance Cpl. Daniel John Santee, a Marine who died on April 14, 2007, at Al Ramadi, Iraq. The 21-year-old son of a former Costa Mesa police sergeant had interned in 2005-06 with the Costa Mesa Fire Department.

Santee was one of at least three servicemen with local bonds killed in Iraq. The others were a fellow Marine from Costa Mesa, Jose Angel Garibay, 21, who, in March 2003, became the first serviceman from Orange County to fall in the Iraq campaign, and Army Spc. Trevor A. Win'E, who had spent many of his 22 years in Costa Mesa.

Santee, Garibay and Win'E didn't have to enlist. The three were volunteers, and Garibay hoped to become an American citizen. They'd barely reached the legal drinking age in the U.S., when they laid down their lives for the country that they loved. So we mustn't forget them.

They died for us.

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