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Memorial Day stirs recollections

As they do each year, the La Jolla veterans’ group will host a Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 26 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. beneath the 40-foot Korean War Memorial Cross in Soledad Natural Park at 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive South.

The spirit of Memorial Day not only embraces veterans, but their loved ones, as well.

“It is not only to honor those who have fallen, they’ve made the supreme sacrifice, but also to honor their families,” noted Bob Phillips, Mt. Soledad Memorial Association honorary trustee.

“It’s both a celebration of our freedom and a commemoration of all of those who served and sacrificed in order to maintain that freedom, whether they died or didn’t - however they served their country,” is how Tom Richards, chairman of the United Veterans Council, a federation of veterans’ organizations, summarized the significance of the national military holiday.

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Richards noted U.S. citizens serve their nation for different reasons and in different ways. “Some serve in uniform,” he said, “some serve as spouses or children, some serve in the defense industry.”

“We celebrate Memorial Day as a special day to honor the veterans of the United States of America who have fallen and are surviving along with the active military around the world in remote locations defending freedom,” added Ed Ward, a trustee and first vice president of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Veterans Association.

For some veterans, like Nathan Fletcher, a candidate for the 75th Assembly District representing La Jolla who was a marine deployed to serve both in Iraq and the horn of Africa, military duty can be an epiphany, inspiring a lifelong commitment to public service.

“When you serve in the military you really understand the importance of service,” said Fletcher, “and being a part of something bigger than yourself, being willing to sacrifice for others.”

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Memorial Day is particularly poignant for those who have lost loved ones.

Gregory “Shortie” Millard of La Jolla, along with two companions, died of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle in Iraq a year ago.

At Millard’s funeral with full military honors held June 4, 2007, at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, his brother Jason noted: “He was a son and a hero. All you had to do was meet him once, and that’s all it took to fall in love with him ... He had his life taken for protecting what we love and cherish, to have what we have, do what we do and love what we love.”

Asked how he and his family are doing a year after his younger brother’s tragic death, Jason Millard said: “Memorial Day was the day he was killed, on the 26th, so it’s a vicious reminder. People say it gets better. It’s definitely tougher today than it was then. My brother meant more to me than anything: He was an extension of me. It was like someone takes half your heart.”

Millard said it is most fitting, on the anniversary of his brother’s death, to remember him for all that he was, and what he meant to all of those who shared his life’s experience.

“We now have a plaque dedicated to him at the top of Soledad,” added Jason Millard.

There is another plaque that is going to grace the Mt. Soledad memorial, that of U.S. Army Sgt. James John “Jimmie” Regan, who died Feb. 9, 2007, while deployed in Southwest Asia, commissioned by his friend and colleague, Jon Enberg, of La Jolla. The two men were on the lacrosse team at Duke University.

Enberg said his friend gave up a promising career to join the military and defend his country. “He was a special guy,” said Enberg, who is also a military veteran. “Jimmie had a job opportunity on Wall Street. He had a scholarship to law school at Southern Methodist University. He turned both of them down and enlisted in the Army. After he got out of the Rangers he wanted to be a teacher and a coach. He was selfless, always helping other people. He was a joy to be around.”

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The origin of the Memorial Day holiday and observance dates back to the Civil War when organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves prior to the end of the “War Between the States.” But it wasn’t until after that conflict in 1868, when Gen. John Logan, then national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the event had become a national holiday. The first Memorial Day observance took place May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. New York state was the first to recognize the national holiday five years later. By 1890, it was recognized in all of the northern states from the Civil War. Former southern states in the Confederacy, however, honored their dead on a separate day until after World War I. It is now celebrated nationwide on the last Monday in May. The three-day Memorial Day holiday has since been widely acknowledged as the kick-off weekend of summer.

To honor local heroes or heroes aboard, please view our

In Remembrance Site

  1. This is a site dedicated to those service men and women who lost their lives during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

Other Local Memorial Day Stories:

Veterans Memorial to Honor Jerry Coleman

Mt. Soledad Memorial Day Ceremony