The idea has been engrained in Jarred Burr since his childhood.
His grandfather, a World War II Ruptured Duck, frequently reminded him that many people had died to provide their individual freedoms – ones Burr took for granted. For him, growing up in Marin County fueled that, as “it’s easy to celebrate everything.”
While Hank, his almost 94-year-old grandfather, couldn’t attend the Memorial Day ceremony, his words of wisdom were passed down to the hundreds seated in the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Holding back tears, Burr, a retired U.S. Marine and decorated combat veteran, delivered the Memorial Day address Monday morning.
Ray Mullin, president of the Marin County United Veterans Council who puts on the event each year, introduced Burr, a gentleman who “raised hell in Marin.” He moved from the podium to bend and motion towards his knees, showing he had known Burr since “he was this tall”; the medals hanging from his blue-and-yellow tinged hat jingled at his every movement.
Burr’s voice quivered but it rarely faltered through his speech, honoring the “precious resource” of sons and daughters who may seem like average American citizens to us but to other countries are “freedom providers.”
“We owe it to these men and women who have died defending our American ideals, to live life to the fullest,” Burr said.
As Burr went back to his seat, shaking hands with people nearby, the crowd quickly rose in unison for a standing ovation, as someone yelled his name and another chimed in, “thank you.” For the audience, decked out in red, white and blue hues, standing ovations throughout the indoor ceremony were as common as those in attendance wearing our country’s colors or military garb.
Amongst this, in the couple seconds it took for Mullin to make his way to the podium, the two empty boots on stage with roses in them, stood out even more.
As a veteran leaped up amongst the others in an impromptu salute to the memorials, the words “gone but not forgotten” were shown, stitched into patches on the back of a green jacket. After the wreath ceremony concluded, a veteran limped over to the microphone with a cane. While many may not support war, he said, today is a day to honor the dead.
His feelings were mimicked earlier in Burr’s speech as he explained that he was raised not to celebrate war.
“I would like to point out that while war is not something that we should go after, we should take a good solemn look at the sacrifices made by over one million patriots,” Burr said.
The veteran asked for his fellow veterans to think about those they were remembering during a moment of silence, which was then broken by his booming voice as arms shot up in salute.
“Howard, this one’s for you and for all the other veterans.”
Even with the microphone perched in front of the Avenue of Flags, the tribute for Lt. Col Howard Pierson of the Air Force trailed off as the hum of the Bay Area Bomber Squadron sounded overhead.
The five planes, honoring those veterans who died, like Pierson in March, gave a flyover: once to do the “Missing Man” formation, in which one plane trails off from the others. They encircled the crowd twice, as eyes and cameras pointed towards the sky until the planes became just specks in the cloudy distance.
“Our Heroes Will Not Be Forgotten”
Those words were etched across the bottom of the Iraq, Afghanistan conflict memorial, slightly hidden by the accumulating bouquets of red roses. Tucked on the right side in the Avenue of Flags, surrounded by other monuments paying tribute, was the simple, black slab that showcased one eagle, two American flags and two names: U.S. Army CPL. Nicholas Olson and U.S. Army SPC. Jake Velloza. Both lived in Marin and died in Iraq; Olson died on Sept. 18, 2007 of wounds from an improvised explosive device and Velloza was killed in action on May 2, 2009.
Their presence pervaded throughout the ceremonies; their smiling faces were displayed on the front of the program and outside their uniformed portraits were propped on top of a green military vehicle. The vehicles were provided by Joe Garbarino, whom for more than 30 years has displayed his collection of World War II vehicles at numerous Marin events.
A standing ovation was given to Olson’s mother, Anita Moran, and gratitude for the men shown in speeches such as Barbara Bochner’s from Blue Star Moms of Marin who presented flowers for those who had given their lives. “They will be in our hearts forever,” she said.
Olson’s mother simply thanked the crowd during the wreath ceremony for “being here to celebrate Nick’s life.”
“The grief process doesn’t fade,” Burr said. “It doesn’t go away and for some, the reminders are forever. So, today is their day to remember and is a day for all of us to remember….we take the day to remember that freedom isn’t free.”
Contact Colleen Bidwill at firstname.lastname@example.org.