The crack of seven rifles firing as one, split the silence of the cloudy afternoon. Then came the slow, mournful sound of taps on a trumpet, just 24 simple notes, marking the end of the 3 p.m. Veterans Day ceremony in Santa Clara’s Central Park Nov. 11.
The national holiday, which honors both living and deceased veterans, was first celebrated in 1919. It was just one year after the end of WWI.
In Santa Clara almost 100 years later, the Cupertino Symphonic Band played patriotic songs and military marches as veterans and their families gathered outdoors beside the circular Veterans Memorial. Military, local and state dignitaries arrived to salute veterans, acknowledge the cost of freedom, and encourage unity in divisive times.
“Today we recognize the lives that have been lost in support of the spirit of America. We also pay tribute to the many men and women who, every single day, put their lives at risk to keep us safe, and have done so throughout the history of our country,” remarked Santa Clara Vice Mayor Teresa O’Neill to perhaps 400 ceremony attendees.
“Today we affirm our commitment to a safe, peaceful community that values its diversity and cherishes principles that Americans hold dear, including the value of our lives and liberties.”
The ceremony had began with the retiring of one American flag and installation of another by Police Chief Mike Sellers and Fire Chief Bill Kelly. Miss Silicon Valley 2015 Melissa (Bowling) Gialdini sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Miss Santa Clara Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashley Santos led the Pledge of Allegiance. Then military flags for each branch of the service were installed.
State Assemblymember Kansen Chu and U.S. Congressman Mike Honda installed California’s state flag. O’Neill and Councilmembers Pat Kolstad and Kathy Watanabe installed the Santa Clara flag.
“I wanted to pay my respects to our servicemen and women and thank you for allowing me to serve you all these years,” said Honda, who has served California since 2001 and is completing his final congressional term this year.
The keynote speaker was 86-year-old Gunnery Sergeant William (Denny) Weisgerber, a Marine Corps veteran and recipient of the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart. Weisgerber lost a leg in Korean War combat.
“We gather today to appreciate a debt we can never repay…Many we honor today were born in another country and another century,” began Weisgerber in a deep, strong voice. “We must decide how to maintain freedom’s gains, won by hard service and sacrifice….We must honor those who live among us and those who live in our memory.”
Santa Clara resident Marge Connell, 94, was one of only a few WWII veterans at the ceremony. She served in the Navy Hospital Corps with the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
“It was one of the high points of my life. It was a privilege to be serving my country in those times,” said Connell, whose late husband, George Connell, was a career Navy man.
The Veterans Memorial–the inspiration of Santa Clara resident James Lee–was dedicated on Veterans Day 2002. The city donated the space in Central Park, and a committee of patriotic residents planned the memorial and raised the money to build it.
“We were one of the first memorials in the U.S. to include the Merchant Marines. We wouldn’t have won WWII without them. They carried all the materials to the war sites–food, guns, everything,” pointed out Lee, who served in the National Guard.
“The Merchant Marines had no guns until the end of WWII and lost many lives. They never got the credit that they deserve. “
Funds from the sale of brick pavers engraved in honor or memory of a loved one help to maintain the Veterans Memorial. Visit www.santaclaraveteransmemorial.com for information.