Memorial Day observances planned throughout Los Angeles County

Long-running Memorial Day observances will be renewed today in Westwood, Glendale and Santa Monica while other events are planned throughout Los Angeles County to honor Americans who died fighting for their country.

The theme for the 121st Memorial Day program at the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood is "Honor and Remembrance" and will include reading of dispatches from war correspondents from the Mexican War to the present. Readers will include Jon Voight, Gerald McRaney, Robert Davi and Powers Boothe.

The ceremony, which begins at 10:30 a.m., will also include a flyover by the Condor Squadron, music by the U.S. Air Force Band of the Southwest, a rifle salute by the California Historical Group and a cannon salute by the Ft. Tejon Washington Artillery.

The 95th Annual Memorial Day program at Forest Lawn-Glendale will include a memorial march beginning at 1 p.m. at the Little Church of the Flowers and proceeding to the burial site of a soldier who served in the Civil War.

The program will also include a Civil War reenactment, music by The Band of the California Battalion and a reading of the presidential Memorial Day proclamation by Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian.

Observances will also be held at the Covina Hills, Hollywood Hills and Long Beach Forest Lawn Memorial Parks.

U.S. Army Capt. Joshua A. Mantz will be the keynote speaker at Woodlawn Cemetery's 72nd annual Memorial Day observance in Santa Monica, which begins at 11 a.m. Mantz was technically dead for 15 minutes from wounds on a battlefield in Iraq, then revived.

The observance will also include two military flyovers, including one by vintage World War II aircraft, and performances by four musical groups.

Organizers expect more than 5,000 people for the 25th annual Memorial Day Observance at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, billed as the Southland's largest annual Memorial Day observance.

The program will begin at at 10 a.m. and include the release of 100 doves and 1,500 balloons, including 250 yellow balloons symbolizing the return of troops from war and 250 black balloons representing prisoners of war and missing in action; musical performances by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ivan Thompson, the Cabar Feidh Bagpipe Band and Palos Verdes Symphonic Band; and aerial flyovers including F-16 fighters from the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard.

The keynote speaker will be U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, the special assistant to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, with a principal focus on warrior and family programs. Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught will be the honorary guest.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, is also among the scheduled speakers.

Ceremonies are also planned for Boyle Heights, Burbank, Canoga Park, Cerritos, East Los Angeles, Inglewood, La Canada Flintridge, Lakewood, Lancaster, Long Beach, Montebello, Monterey Park, Newhall, Norwalk, Palmdale, Paramount, Puente Hills, Redondo, Sylmar and Westlake Village.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will mark Memorial Day by wearing new "Stars & Stripes" caps with the American flag etched into the team's logo for their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium.

All proceeds from the sale of the caps will go to Welcome Back Veterans, which addresses the needs of returning veterans and their families.

Approximately 1,000 veterans and active duty military members will receive free tickets from the Dodgers. Army member Gigi Theocharides will sing the national anthem and "God Bless America."

In his Memorial Day proclamation, President Barack Obama designated 11 a.m. as a time to unite in prayer for permanent peace and encouraged all Americans to observe a national moment of remembrance at 3 p.m.

"This Memorial Day, we express our deepest appreciation to the men and women in uniform who gave their last full measure of devotion so we might live in freedom," Obama said. "We cherish their memory and pray for the peace for which they laid down their lives.

"We mourn with the families and friends of those we have lost and hope they find comfort in knowing their loved ones died with honor. We ask God's grace to protect those fighting in distant lands and we renew our promise to support the troops, their families and our veterans. Their unwavering devotion inspires us all – they are the best of America."

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans organization.

Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. After World War I, the holiday was changed to honor Americans who died fighting in all wars.

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