May 28 was the 150th anniversary of the first Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868, three years after the end of the U.S. Civil War, which was America’s deadliest war, taking the lives of almost 500,000 military personnel.
Observed on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day is a national holiday to pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces of all U.S. wars. The statistics are sobering.
In WWII, the deadliest military conflict in world history in total casualties, more than 400,000 American military lost their lives. Of those, more than 300,000 were in the Army and Air Force.
It is even more sobering to know that estimates of total military lives lost worldwide in WWII range from 21 to 25 million. In addition, at least 50 to 55 million civilian lives were lost worldwide.
In his remarks Monday, Col. Taft Aujero with the 129th Air Rescue Wing at Moffett Field, paid tribute to two U.S. Air Force reservists from Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Master Sgt. William R. Posch and Staff Sgt. Carl P. Enis were killed on March 15 in a helicopter crash in western Iraq near the Syrian border.
Aujero quoted the Pararescue creed, saying, “These things we do, that others may live.”
A Santa Clara resident for 60 years, Henry Zatarain, 94, was perhaps the only WWII veteran attending Santa Clara’s 3 p.m. Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Central Park. Zatarain, born in Texas, entered the Air Force in 1941 at 16 and later served as a Marine in the Korean War and in the Vietnam era.
“My country has always been great,” said Zatarain. “I taught my four kids to be honest and pray to God.”
At the end of the ceremony, Matt Walterskirchen, a clarinet player in the Cupertino Symphonic Orchestra, which opened and closed the ceremony, came up to Zatarain and shook his hand.
“Thank you for your service,” Walterskirchen said. “If you hadn’t gone to Korea and fought, I might not be alive.”
Walterskirchen’s American father, a civilian serving in Korea, had met his Korean mother there. Walterskirchen was born in Korea and grew up in Sunnyvale.
Gunnery Sergeant William “Denny” Weisgerber, who served with the Marines from 1949 to 1953 and lost a leg as a result of Korean War injuries, was once again the keynote speaker for the memorial ceremony. The former three-time mayor of Milpitas, now 88, continues to stand tall and speak with a commanding voice.
Weisgerber addressed the more than 400 gathered to pay their respects to the fallen. He spoke of the cost and burden of freedom and the need for the U.S. to have wisdom and understanding in working with its allies.
He quoted American country music artist Lee Greenwood’s song “I’m Proud to Be an American.”
“…I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me. And I gladly stand up, next to you and defend her still today. ‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God Bless the USA,” said Weisgerber.
The privately-funded Santa Clara Veterans Memorial opened on Veterans Day 2002. Funds from the sale of brick pavers engraved in honor or memory of a loved one help to maintain the memorial. Visit www.santaclaraveteransmemorial.com for information.