Richard Brian / Special to the Sun
Monday, May 25, 2009 | 7:45 p.m.
- Peggy Randle, who served in the Navy from 1955 to 1957 and 1961 to 1968, is with the Women Veterans of Nevada. She talks about what Memorial Day means to her.
- Jim Walsh of North Las Vegas, a Marine from 1986 to 1990, talks about Memorial Day.
- Katie O'Brien of Pahrump talks about coming to the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
- Rep. Dina Titus talks about Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is often viewed as the official start of summer, complete with backyard cookouts and department store deals. But for several grateful residents, Monday was spent doing what the holiday is intended for -- honoring those who died during military service.
About 160 people attended the 44th annual Memorial Day service at Palm Mortuary and Cemetery, 800 S. Boulder Highway. The service, which was directed under American Legion B.M.I. Post 40, saw a greater number of attendees this year than last year.
"Last year we noticed a difference in the number of people who came out," said Michael Watkins, executive vice president of Palm Mortuary and Cemetery. "Each year it increases a little bit and it's such an honor for us to be able to do this. While we spend every day honoring people and their lives, today is a special day where people can pay tribute to those who have served so valiantly."
Watkins noted that at an earlier service at Palm's downtown Las Vegas location, Mayor Oscar Goodman mentioned the increase of young people turning out to pay tribute.
Sarah Mendenhall, 15, of Las Vegas was one of the young people at the Henderson location. Her grandfather, also of Las Vegas, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. She comes to the Palm event every year to honor him and others who have served their country.
"It's important to realize that this is not just another day we have off school," Mendenhall said. "It's a day to remember the soldiers who have fallen for my freedom. And it's important to show their families my support and that I appreciate what they've done for me."
Other young people inside the chapel wanted to honor those who have served by also serving the country. Denise Daniels of Henderson sat in one of the back pews and watched her son, Cody Cobb, perform the presentation of colors as part of the Basic High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC. He is planning on joining the Marines when he graduates from high school in 2012.
"I'm very worried about him joining but he feels he needs to serve his country and follow in his dad's footsteps,” she said. “I think it's important for him to come to stuff like this to see the other side of it.”
Representatives for Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Dean Heller, Rep. Dina Titus and Gov. Jim Gibbons read letters to the audience about the importance of remembering those who have served.
Sheila Venner, president of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 40, talked about reconnecting with the past.
"Memorial Day is a time for Americans to reconnect with their history and core values by honoring those who gave their lives for the ideals we cherish," she said.
After the songs and speeches, the crowd filed outside the chapel for the placing of the wreaths at the flagpole. In the background were the small flags placed at the graves by Cub Scout Pack 304 and Boy Scout Troop 95.
Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley showed up afterward, saying she didn’t want to miss the ceremony.
"Every year I attend Memorial Day services at as many cemeteries as I can in order to pay my respect to the war dead," Berkley said. "It means so much to the families of those that were lost to show appreciation for the sacrifices they made."
Berkley then headed to Boulder City for a Memorial Day ceremony sponsored by the Catholic War Veterans USA, Inc. Post 1947 at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 1900 Buchanan Blvd., where an estimated 1,200 people showed up to pay their respects.
Smiles adorned the faces of former servicemen and servicewomen, several in uniform, in recognition of the large turnout, but the mood was somber. The chapel and outdoor seating area was full, but the crowd didn't seem bothered by the warm temperatures as hundreds waited outside for the ceremony to begin.
William Christian, originally from Ohio, got out of the Air Force in 1972. With a shaky voice and several pauses, he said it is a hard day but it's important to remember those who served. He wasn't the only one who said Memorial Day is sometimes difficult.
"The stories the older men and women here can tell you will put tears in your eyes," said Jim Walsh of North Las Vegas, a Marine. "But it's important to remember that Memorial Day is about the good we do."
Others who were never in the military are fighting a battle of their own.
Katie O'Brien of Pahrump spoke of her grandson, Army Pfc. Travis Virgadamo, 19, of Las Vegas who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a post outside Baghdad. The suicide occurred after Virgadamo sought and received psychiatric counseling from the military.
"I'm fighting to help those returning who are battling mental illness," O'Brien said.
Sen. John Ensign also addressed the mental wounds some veterans battle after returning home.
"We need to appreciate not only the physical sacrifices that they've made, but also the mental," he said. He also said the freedoms Americans have are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but they are only guaranteed because of the men and women in uniform who fight for them.
Berkley and Titus spoke at the event, both touching on the importance of supporting the family members of military personnel. A representative of Gibbons also thanked family members when she read a statement from the governor that said, "it is with deep sadness that we honor the legacy of the servicemen and women. I thank the families who shared them with us and experience great sorrow on their behalf."
Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler said residents are fortunate to have both the memorial cemetery and veterans home in Boulder City. He said not everyone finds time in the long holiday weekend to pay respects, but feels everyone is still grateful for the reason the holiday exists.
"Although we have a lot of distractions on Memorial Day, I believe deep down every American has a sense of gratitude," Tobler said.
The ceremony was followed by a 21-gun salute, "Taps" performed by Buglers Across America and a flyover in missing man formation by the Boulder City Veterans' Pilot Group. After the speeches, veterans from World War II to the current war were asked to stand in recognition.
Berkley also unveiled the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom service members’ names plaque on the "Lest They Be Forgotten" memorial, which includes the 48 names of the Nevada soldiers who have died in the line of duty.