GLENDALE — For hundreds of local residents who turned out to Memorial Day ceremonies across Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada Flintridge, the hours of tribute — complete with bagpipes, benedictions, names of fallen service members, patriotic hymns and roses — serve as an annual exercise in remembrance.
But for Liam McKenna, a second-grader at St. Finbar School, such an exercise takes place weekly.
“Every Sunday, I take a marble from the ‘Iraq’ circle and put it in the ‘home’ pile,” said Liam, dressed from head to toe in Army fatigues and wearing his dad’s rank, Sgt. 1st Class. “I wear the uniform because it reminds me of my dad in Iraq. There’s 11 marbles left, 11 weeks left.”
McKenna joined hundreds of Burbank residents, soldiers and government officials at 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 while Boy Scouts placed roses atop the memorials.
A musical prelude gave way to a flyover by the Condor Squadron. In Glendale, Vietnam veteran Steve Malmberg browsed the Glendale Veterans Memorial, dedicated in 1997. Master of Ceremonies Larry Zarian welcomed the somber crowd to the corner of Isabel Street and East Broadway with opening remarks oozing with patriotism.
“It makes me proud to not only be an American,” he said. “It makes me proud to be a citizen of Glendale.”
Mayor Frank Quintero 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 reminder to employers, particularly in this dire economy, to hire veterans.
“All over Memorial Day is about more than just hot dogs and having a great time,” he said. “Let’s continue to work with the veterans, and let’s keep the returning veterans in mind.”
The morning of reminiscence was also an opportunity to remember those who never returned from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, more than 4,900 U.S. troops have died while serving in the two countries, 537 of them from California, according to records kept by the Los Angeles Times.
The mounting casualties have caused Lt. Col. Raffi Najarian, a Glendale resident and dental officer in the California Air National Guard, to every day gaze in the mirror at 6:30 a.m. and ask himself the same question.
“Why did I come home?” said Najarian, who in 2003 was named California National Guard Medical Officer of the Year and in 2004 was named California Air National Guard Field Grade Officer of the Year. “Why isn’t my name on that wall? Why is this name on the wall?”
At times, the guilt nearly overcomes him, Najarian said, until he remembers all of those parents, spouses, children and friends who have lost loved ones in battle.
“Their loss will not be in vain,” he said. “Their dedication will not be for naught.”
The Crescenta Valley High School Charismatics struck up its rendition of “America the Beautiful” before members of the high school’s Air Force Jr. ROTC program took part in the laying of the roses.
Residents in La Cañada Flintridge capped off a weekend of ceremonies, including a tribute at nearby Vietnam War Memorial in the Montrose Shopping Center, with the 34th Annual Fiesta Days Run. The event has become a prelude to tributes in downtown Glendale and at Forest Lawn-Glendale, where the 94th 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.
The Burbank event was highlighted by a tribute to Cpl. Larry L. Maxam, of the U.S. Marine Corps, a recipient of the Medal of Honor who died fighting in Vietnam. The City Council last week approved plans to rename Pacific Park after Larry L. Maxam in the fall.
Rep. Adam Schiff discussed legislation he introduced this year paying tribute to the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team for their service in World War II by awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal, and Assemblyman Paul Krekorian implored those in attendance to harness the can-do spirit of troops to move the country forward.
Mayor Gary Bric spoke briefly about his brother, William H. Bric III, a Green Beret who died in 1968 in Vietnam. Bric held up a book about the war, saying he never had a chance to read it.
“I had a chance,” he said. “I just can’t do it.”
CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO covers City Hall and the courts. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at christopher.cadelago@latimes. com.