CERES -- For Claudia and Robbin Tomlin, a mother and daughter from Ceres, Memorial Day was bittersweet. Celebrating the holiday has been a long-standing family tradition. But this year, for the first time, they marked the day without "Tommy."
Charles "Tommy" Tomlin, a World War II Navy veteran who fought at Pearl Harbor, died in January at age 87. Tomlin was married to Claudia, 81, and is the father of Robbin, 53. The family lived in Ceres on a chicken ranch near the Whit- more overpass before moving to Modesto.
Charles Tomlin was buried at Ceres Memorial Park, where the women attended a Memorial Day program Monday.
"We come every year," said Claudia Tomlin. "But this year, it's hard to be here. I've just been sitting here thinking that these are the same fellows who performed Tommy's service, the gun salute and taps."
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The holiday was always important to her father, said Robbin Tomlin. It was a chance for him to remember the men he served with and other veterans, too.
"He'd get very emotional," she said.
About 90 people attended the 10 a.m. program in the cemetery to remember veterans who died at war or otherwise served the U.S. military. Many of them wore red, white and blue or donned shirts printed with the bold stripes of the flag.
The service started with the posting of colors, as veterans carried in flags to set up in front of the audience. Other veterans raised the U.S. flag and the POW-MIA flag to half-staff. Audience members saluted or held a hand over their heart.
Guest speaker Anthony Cannella, mayor of Ceres, asked the audience to consider one question: "Would our soldiers be as proud of us as we are of them?"
He stressed the need to overcome partisan politics, volunteer in the community and respect each other despite differences.
"It's time to be like soldiers in the foxhole," he said, "and embrace what separates us from each other."
More than 30 people placed poppies on a wreath to honor fallen soldiers and those still serving. One by one they approached the microphone to make a dedication.
"For my dad, who fought in World War II and the Battle of the Bulge. He was out on the front lines," one woman said.
"For all my friends who fell during the first Tet offensive in 1968," a man said.
"For the six veterans who did not survive when our plane was shot down," said 88-year-old Eldred McElrath, who was a prisoner of war in Germany after his plane was struck by artillery shells during a bombing mission in 1944.
A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as the weight of memories and pride and longing for lost loved ones filtered through the crowd.
"It's good to see the community come alive and remember those who have fallen," commander Ben Tapia, of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10293 in Ceres, told the group. "There's a lot to be remembered and many to be honored."
The ceremony ended with poems about military service. Seven color guard members then fired three shots in a gun salute. A bugle player performed taps.
Gaylene and Bernard Ramos of Turlock attended the ceremony because of an invitation from their former postman Walt Butler. Butler, junior vice commander of VFW Post 10293, had asked them if he could read a poem written by their son, Phillip, during the ceremony. The couple was happy to oblige.
Phillip Ramos, 31, is on his second tour of duty in Iraq, said his mother, Gaylene, 55. Her son is a member of the military police, she said. He is expected home in early August.
Bernard Ramos, 58, a Vietnam veteran, said Memorial Day offers an important chance to teach the next generation about the lessons of history and the importance of serving and protecting the United States. His wife agreed.
"So many people just think of this as another three-day weekend and go out to the lake," she said. "They're not honoring what it's about. It's really sad."
Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2235.