Memorial Day remembrances begin with East LA event honoring vets who served overseas

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Veterans from the Marine Corp and Air Force salute the American flag during the singing of the national anthem during a Memorial Day ceremony held at the Cypress Park Veterans Memorial in the East Los Angeles.

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

A wreath that reads "You Are Remembered" is placed at the Cypress Park Veterans Memorial for the approximately 270 veteran neighbors honored.

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Franklin High School R.O.T.C members replace the worn American flag with a new one at the Cypress Park Veterans Memorial during the ceremony.

Cypress Park veterans place pieces of their military uniform at the Veterans Memorial plaque to honor friends and neighbors who served during conflict.

Guillermo Reyes was in college when his friend Louie Calderon was drafted to the Vietnam war in 1970. He remembers well that he didn't come home.

“We lost two friends of mine in Vietnam,” Reyes said. “Louie Calderon grew up down the street here. He would have been class of ‘69 at Franklin High. And Tommy Huerta.”

Reyes is president of the Cypress Park Community Improvement Association in Northeast Los Angeles. About twelve years ago, the group converted an abandoned gas station into a small veterans memorial site.

He and about 60 other Cypress Park residents honored the friends they lost in wars at a small ceremony at the site Saturday, the 11th annual event. The American flag flying over a bronze veteran plaque, it's stripes faded and edges frayed, was replaced with a bright new one. 

“It’s something we feel like we need to do – honor them,” said Reyes, who avoided the draft because he was studying.

The ceremony was the first of at least half a dozen Memorial Day events Saturday in Los Angeles -- and many others will be held Sunday and Monday. They include the traditional flag placement on headstones at veterans' cemeteries and more modern interpretations, like a photo wall in Glendale. The federal holiday honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S military.

More 270 veterans from Cypress Park who have served in conflicts from World War II to the current war in Afghanistan were named in the program Saturday. Crosses are marked next to about 40 names, indicating that those military men and women died either in their tour of duty or since then.

Vietnam Vet Marcus Gutierrez helps plan the annual Memorial Day ceremony and a similar program for Veterans Day. He spent 16 months in Vietnam in 1970. He talked about the significance of putting on a uniform and being sent to war.

“When he leaves this country, he goes to wherever they send him,” Gutierrez said. “They’re giving the United States government a blank check, payable with their body.”

To find an event near you, KPCC has compiled a listing.

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