S.F. Memorial Day events honor the fallen
Proud words were spoken and cannon shots fired during a ceremony at San Francisco's historic Presidio grounds Monday as hundreds of people listened to tributes paid to the nation's fallen warriors.
It was a day of praise for World War I doughboys, the all-black regiments of Buffalo Soldiers who protected settlers of the western frontier, GIs whose platoons patrolled in Vietnam, and armed forces now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was also a day of mourning, as friends and relatives visited the graves of loved ones buried at the Presidio cemetery on a hill overlooking the bay.
And at Justin Herman Plaza, where a veterans group created a unique Memorial Day event, it was a time for artwork, healing and reflection about war and peace.
"It's a wonderful turnout," said Don Reid, who participated in a parade at the Presidio.
"We don't have enough appreciation for the bravery that has been shown by our predecessors," said Reid, who fought in the Korean War as a sergeant in the Marines.
Reid and scores of other veterans, along with vintage Army jeeps and the drums corps from the Lincoln High School Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, marched from the Presidio's Main Post area to the cemetery, where soldiers from wars throughout the nation's history are buried.
"I feel it's about time that they honor the veterans," said Morning Star Vancil, who said she served in the Philippine Marine Corps as an infantry instructor.
Vancil was one of several members of the American Legion Post 448 who attended the Memorial Day ceremony at the Presidio - and they were intent on making a point.
"We are the only NATO army without gay and lesbian armed forces, and England has a lesbian general," said Richard Manning, vice commander of Post 448, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force.
Lisa Buescher of Lincoln (Placer County) wore a World War II nurse uniform as she marched with a Bay Area group whose period costumes helped create historical re-enactments.
"We try to honor the past and those who have come before us," she said, adding that it made her feel "proud of my country."
Dan McAuliffe of Burlingame brought his two sons - Connor, 7, and Jimmy, 4 - to the ceremony at the Presidio.
"They can see all the people who serve and protect them," he said. "I made a point of having them stand up and clap as they marched past."
In her invocation, Kay Fuller of Veterans of Foreign Wars said that "freedom is not free."
State Assembly Majority Whip Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat, reminded the crowd that nearly 5,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and about 31,000 soldiers injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. "The cost of this loss is immeasurable," she said.
Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella said it was important to honor men and women who served the nation because of their "willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves."
San Francisco public relations executive Noah Griffin delivered the Gettysburg Address from memory.
"From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion," he said, echoing the words of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
The crowd waved tiny American flags as a chorus sang "God Bless America," a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," and the Army delivered a 21-gun howitzer salute.
A different dynamic surfaced Sunday afternoon at Justin Herman Plaza, where Swords to Plowshares - a nonprofit group that helps veterans - created an interactive event for the public.
Dozens of adults and children helped paint two mural panels, including one that featured a cemetery that dissolves into agricultural lands, with 12 flags representing wars in the nation's history.
"I'm painting some of these headstones yellow like the sun," said Sean Kilcoyne, a Vietnam veteran. "It conveys life, remembering that the gene pool will live on."
Guest artist Angela Knowles of Oakland, whose sketches formed the basis of the two panels, said: "Memorial Day for many people has become a time of leisure. We're doing this because people have lost their lives - not only combatants, but noncombatants."
Knowles, an Air Force veteran who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as in Pakistan, said: "There's a dialogue created, and people may discuss what this means. They can think about what brought them here."