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Sacrifices of young soldiers get special recognition at ceremony

“Service to America” is Mount Soledad Memorial Association’s theme for this year’s Memorial Day ceremony honoring veterans who’ve made the supreme sacrifice for their country.

The event will be held Monday, May 29, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the mountaintop shrine.

Patients from Balboa Naval Hospital, those who were wounded while serving in Iraq will be at the event. A plaque will be unveiled on the veterans memorial wall honoring Audie Leon Murphy of the U.S. Army, who was a member of the 3rd Infantry Division, 15th Infantry Regiment. He was the most highly decorated World War II veteran.

Murphy’s plaque will join more than 1,700 others on the memorial’s walls, which have room for as many as 3,200 plaques honoring veterans alive and dead dating back to the Civil War.

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This year’s event will also have a special presentation honoring Vice Admiral James Stockdale, a Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient. Also honored will be Chief Warrant Officer Julio Ereneta, a WWI and WWII decorated veteran.

John Smith, a retired decorated Vietnam War medic who is a Mount Soledad veterans’ trustee as well as a special representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs, was responsible for organizing this year’s Mount Soledad memorial observance. Smith said it’s a special day for all involved, especially veterans who’ve placed themselves in harm’s way.

“It is a time each year throughout San Diego County and all of America to honor the sacrifice of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” said Smith, the holder of three Purple Hearts.

In keeping with this year’s theme of service to America is keynote speaker Rear Admiral Joseph Maguire.

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“He is the commander of all the Navy’s Special Forces teams, including underwater demolition,” said Smith. “I would encourage people to attend to hear the admiral, who, as commander of all the Navy Seal teams in America, can say a lot about what we’re doing.”

Memorial Day ceremonies such as this take on added meaning when a war is being fought on foreign soil.

“We’re taking casualties with boots on the ground,” said Smith. “During times of war, it’s always very poignant, very current.”

As a combat veteran, Smith can appreciate the sacrifices to be made for serving the country and protecting its freedoms.

“I understand the nature of combat,” he said, “and having said that, it’s probably the worst way to ever settle an argument. But there are some things worth fighting for. Freedom is one of them.”

There will also be Veterans Honor Ceremonies for Hilton Abasolo Torrevillas Jr., who served nearly 10 years at sea on four different ships; Frank Thomas Correia, who served in the Navy during WWII; and Joe Correia, who served in the Army during the Korean War and was wounded when his ship was struck by a suicide submarine, and his brother Joe, who was a member of the 2nd Infantry Division killed in action; Commander Dale Potter Helmer, who was involved with the Korean shore bombardments providing guard for other ships; and the Army’s John Joseph Talamontes, who fought in five campaigns.

The program theme this year is the invaluable contribution of the youth in the military. There will be musical presentations from the Navy Band Southwest, the San Diego Children’s Choir and soloist Victoria Robertson.

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It’s been more than 50 years since the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial with its landmark towering white concrete cross was established on April 29, 1954, as a memorial to Korean War veterans, replacing a previous cross marker on the site. The memorial includes six walls of memorial plaques encircling the cross.

The roots of the Memorial Day holiday and observance date back to the aftermath of the Civil War. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890, it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I. It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May.

Smith asked guests to turn out early for the Memorial Day ceremony, as parking at the site is limited. Complimentary shuttles will be provided from Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church, 6551 Soledad Mountain Road, and All Hallows Catholic Church, 6602 La Jolla Scenic Drive South.

For more information, call (858) 459-2314 or visit www.soledadmemorial.com.