“The courage, character and bravery of those we memorialize today” is the meaning of Memorial Day – so said Marine Corps First Lieutenant Colin Browning, the keynote speaker on Monday, May 28, at Woodlawn Cemetery. Lt. Browning, who has served two tours of duty in Iraq, was featured in Santa Monica’s 69th Memorial Day observance at the City cemetery at 14th Street and Pico Boulevard.
Also featured that day was the memory of Santa Monica Police Officer Ricardo A. Crocker, a Marine Corps major, who was killed on May 25, 2005 while serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.
It was small town America during a time of war, as hundreds of people gathered to pay tribute to those who had sacrificed in all wars. The combined John Adams and Lincoln Middle School Choir sang “Danny Boy” and “In Flanders Fields,” the Marine Corps and Santa Monica Police Explorers (a Boy Scouts organization) posted colors, a roll call of community and patriotic organizations presented floral wreaths to the generations of those who have fallen, and Jeanie Talbot of the Culver City Emblem Club lifted spirits with an a cappella rendition of the National Anthem and with a final medley of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America.”
The tribute to SMPD officer Crocker included Assemblymember Julia Brownley, Police Captain Mark Smiley, Mayor Richard Bloom, and Councilmembers Bob Holbrook (in his American Legion garrison cap) and Kevin McKeown, as well as officer Crocker’s family on the outdoor stage. Councilmember Bobby Shriver was seated in the last row of the folding chairs on the lawn.
Keynote speaker Browning, who served in the Fallujah region of Iraq, spoke of his fallen comrades and said that they “came to liberate a city, which we did.” He took pride that they “did not die in vain.”
The observance was emceed by Doug Randall of Santa Monica Elks Club No. 906, which took a major role in presenting the event. Also active at the podium was Virgil County, the Woodlawn Cemetery Administrator, who helped greatly to make the annual observance possible.
Memorial Day, perhaps most popularly associated with the traditional beginning of summer and the running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race, commemorates U.S. men and women who have died in military service to their country. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it began as a grassroots holiday to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, was recognized in many Southern States only after World War I and was officially recognized by Congress as Memorial Day and fixed as the last Monday in May in the 1960s.
It is sometimes confused with Veterans Day, November 11, which is celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, to mark the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service and to acknowledge that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty. Congress made it a national legal holiday as Armistice Day in 1938, and officially changed it to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all who have served.