Once again at this year's Memorial Day Service, to be held at the Memorial Park bandstand at 9 a.m. Monday, May 28, citizens of La Cañada Flintridge will be called to honor another one of their own, fallen in time of war, as the name of Spc. Carla J. Stewart, US Army is dedicated and placed on a plaque that honors those who have lost their lives in Iraq. Her name will join those of 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, US Army and 2nd Lt. James P.
Participants will also honor those who have lost their lives in battle in service of their country during WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam, as well as those who have served and survived.
Recognizing and presenting the veterans, will be speaker Ed Blecksmith, whose son 2nd Lt. James P. Blecksmith's name was placed on the memorial following his death in Iraq on November 11, 2004.
The dedication ceremony will honor Spc. Stewart, a former student at La Cañada High School who was killed in Iraq on January 26 when her vehicle overturned in Tallil. A member of Army Reserves, she completed basic training in South Carolina and was assigned to the 250th Transportation Company based in El Monte prior to her deployment to Iraq. Her mother Emmy Aprahamian will attend the memorial service.
"I appreciate the thought that she [Stewart] is appreciated and honored. I am sure she is seeing this and appreciating it as well," an emotional Aprahamian said. "It is such a sacrifice on the part of the soldiers and the parents. The pain is unbearable."
La Cañadan Don Hingst who has chaired Memorial Day Service for the past 30 years, will again bring his heartfelt words to those who gather to honor these individuals. This year, he will co- chair the event with Joe Puglia.
Hingst explained, "It is an extremely important part of the our education as a community, and to pass on the legacy of what these people have done. They need to be honored. The hardest part is seeing the names," he said, his voice cracking with emotion. "At last year's ceremony, we were also thrilled to have 32 WWII veterans in attendance. Some have passed away since then. We hope to have a large number attending again this year."
Stewart, a first generation American, was born in La Cañada Flintridge, the eldest child of Emmy Aprahamian and Edmond Babayan. Her brother Richard is 16 months younger. She started school at St. George's and later attended a private elementary school. She was a student at LCHS until her family moved to Glendale where she graduated from Hoover High School. Stewart loved ballet and studied at Ballet Petit for seven years. "She was very good at it," said Aprahamian.
Stewart's interest in military service developed during her teen years and became more pronounced as she grew older.
"At 17 she went to enlist in the Army with a girlfriend," said Aprahamian. "They went to the recruiter but got cold feet.
"She joined just prior to her 35th birthday, the cutoff date then was 34. She told me, 'Mom, this is just something I have to do. If I don't do this now I'll regret it for the rest of my life,'" Aprahamian recalled.
While her mother didn't like the idea, she said she supported her and then watched as her daughter excelled.
"Carla volunteered to go," said Aprahamian. "She really, really loved the Army. She was very proud to wear the uniform and it seemed to me she blossomed. She had the courageousness, the selflessness and her joy; she never lost the joy of the Lord." Aprahamian continued, "She was appreciated by her peers, unconditionally, from her military peers to her commanding officers." When her daughter's unit was sent home, Aprahamian was invited to attend their homecoming. "Ninety-nine percent of the 250 unit members made a point to come up and hug me," she said proudly.
The Memorial Park plaques
In 1999, then 15-year-old Rachel Torres realized that although there had been a plaque installed by the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada dedicating the park on Foothill at La Cañada Boulevard as a place of memorial, it did not have a plaque listing the names of La Cañada servicemen who had died in Vietnam. She thought the park should have a plaque with the names of all the local war dead.
In March of 2000, Rachel, with the support of local Korean and Vietnam era veterans living in town approached the City Council with her suggestion for plaques honoring not only Vietnam veterans but WWI, WWII and Korea veterans as well. She was armed with public support and $1,000 in pledges toward plaques costing $500 each.
The project, by then named Project Remembrance, had taken on a life of its own. At an April City Council meeting that also happened to include the annual rotation of officers, including the seating of a new mayor, LCF resident Bert England and Torres addressed the council to request the installation of the three plaques at no cost to the taxpayers. Following the installation of Dave Spence as mayor, then-councilmembers Deborah Orlik and Jerry Martin asked that Project Remembrance be placed on the agenda of the next meeting to allow time for dedication at the 2000 Memorial Day services. The request did not gain the approval of their colleagues. Sue Stauffer, then a Parks and Recreation commissioner, asked for an emergency meeting a week later and approval was granted by that commission for the plaques.
The city of La Cañada Flintridge now pays for costs for new plaques and addition of names, such as the one added to honor those who have perished in Iraq.
Three names now stand silently on that plaque. Rachel Torres is a 24-year-old Stanford graduate currently living and teaching in France.
Little did she know that seven years ago, when she started this project, the first new names added to the memorial would be those of close family friends 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, US Army and 2nd Lt. James P. Blecksmith, USMC.